More Advanced Copywriting Techniques
Persuading Prospects to Buy

In this issue:

  • Why persuasion is the most valuable skill you could ever acquire …
  • How to seduce prospects without ever explicitly naming a single benefit …
  • How acknowledging and validating your prospect’s core beliefs and values gives you an almost unfair advantage in sales copy …
  • How to use rhetoric to bypass prospects’ brains entirely – making it virtually impossible for them to refuse the impulse to order NOW …
  • And MUCH MORE!

Dear Business-Builder,

Whether you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, marketing pro or copywriter, this issue is going to be extremely valuable to you.

We’re continuing last week’s ramblings on persuasion: Without a doubt, the most valuable skill any human being could possibly develop – and I am not talking about just in copywriting or sales either.

Persuasion makes the world go around:

  • Persuasion is at the heart of every government system you can name. In democracies, politicians gain power by persuading perpetually gullible citizens to vote for them. Once elected, the peoples’ representatives debate each new bill before it becomes law, each side attempting to persuade the other.

    Even in monarchies and dictatorships, domestic tranquility – and in many cases, the very survival of the regime – is assured as the masses are persuaded that the monarch was divinely appointed … that the dictator is the nation’s destiny … or at the very least, to abide by the law of the land (often at the point of a gun).

  • The world’s legal systems operate almost entirely on persuasion. Trials are little more than contests between two sets of attorneys to determine which will better persuade the judge or jury of its point of view.

    As the OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson trials graphically demonstrated to many, the guilt or innocence of the accused can be irrelevant: If you have the most persuasive lawyer, you win: You can get away with the sickest behavior imaginable – even murder. On the other hand, if your lawyer is less than persuasive, you can be as innocent as a lamb and as pure as the driven snow – and still wind up on Death Row.

  • Every religious movement owes its existence to its abilities to persuade converts that its holy script – and therefore its precepts and doctrines – is authentic, accurate and reliable (and by extension, that contradictory ones are frauds).
  • In our personal lives, many (if not most) of our marriages and life partnerships are rooted in persuasion. Whether by passive seduction or aggressive pursuit, one of us persuaded the other to commit to an exclusive long-term relationship.
  • Raising children is a Herculean two-way exercise in the art of persuasion. Parents use every persuasion strategy at their command to produce desired behaviors and discourage undesirable ones – and kids are past masters at figuring out what needs to be said or done to persuade Mom and Dad to give them their way.
  • And of course, persuasion is an essential component in every business success story. Every day, banks and investors are persuaded to bankroll new businesses … quality employees are persuaded to join their teams … workers are persuaded to perform in productive ways …

    … New customers are persuaded to make their first purchases … existing customers are persuaded to make new purchases … unions and vendors are persuaded to accept companies’ terms … and executives persuade other businesses to enter into alliances and joint ventures and to concede to mergers and acquisitions.

    Heck: One of the greatest business empires of all time began with a simple act of persuasion. Microsoft was born when Bill Gates persuaded IBM to pay him a royalty on every copy of MS-DOS software installed on its machines!

Master The Art of Persuasion
and You Can Write Your
Own Ticket In Life!

As we established in last week’s issue, persuasion is nothing more than the ability to influence or convince another human being to see things your way, and/or to take a particular action (e.g. to read or listen to your promo and to order your product).

Last week, we looked at the use of logical arguments, scientific demonstrations and proof elements. This week, we’re going to look at three more “’suasion strategies.”

There are, of course, many more persuasion strategies available to you. In fact, the fun part of persuasion is that you’re only limited by your own imagination and creative genius!

Look back over the list above of all the ways persuasion makes the world go around – for example …

Politicians persuade by appealing to voters’ self-interest … and by portraying the opposition (competitors) as being inferior, incompetent, corrupt, or even evil and dangerous …

Despots manipulate subjects’ mythology and superstitions to assert their right to rule – and when all else fails, employ the threat or actual use of physical force …

Defense lawyers rely on proof elements, scientific demonstrations and rational arguments (“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!”) – and play on jurors’ belief systems, prejudices and sympathies …

To bring new converts into the fold, religious leaders use prospects’ feelings of inadequacy, desire to be loved, yearning to belong, longing to make sense out of a chaotic world, feelings of guilt for past sins and the fear of falling into the hands of an angry god …

A male suitor is likely to pamper, preen and pose (show off) and promise a blissful future in order to persuade a female to grant him her affections. The ladies often tease, tantalize, intrigue, and fascinate in order to seduce their intended. And of course, when all else fails, the cosmetics and cosmetic surgery industries stand ready to conspire in blatant acts of shameless deception – for both sexes …

Parents tend to rely on offering rewards and making rational arguments to keep kids in line – and when that fails, fall back on nagging, shouting, threats and corporal punishment. Kids on the other hand, are famous for whining, pouting, negotiating and in rare cases, actually constructing a rational argument to get their way.

Of course, as direct response marketers, not all of these ‘suasion strategies are available to us. It’s difficult to imagine an instance in which we could threaten that you’ll be shot by a jack-booted government thug or go to hell if you don’t buy our product.

But the fact that all of our greatest institutions are built upon the forms of persuasion listed above – government, religion, sexual liaisons and family – should give any self-respecting marketer pause.

If these time-honored ‘suasion strategies handily convince rational human beings to act – often in irrational and self-defeating ways – shouldn’t we be employing all of them in sales messages for products that actually bring value to our customers’ lives?

I mean – am I right, or am I right?

I’m right – right?

So let’s look at three more strategies for helping prospects to see things your way …

‘Suasion Strategy #4:

Most of us approach sales copy like an army would attack a walled city: With a full frontal attack.

We approach prospects with all flags flying, trumpets blaring and missiles flying. Our siege machines hurl fiery projectiles, our archers darken the sky with arrows and we send row after row of armored warriors to assault the enemy’s gates.

Of course, unlike the ancient Greeks and Romans who used real weapons, our missiles are mere words: Benefits honed to razor sharpness.

But there’s another way to coax the enemy to abandon the city and join us. And in many cases, this alternative can prove far more effective.

"Curiosity,” said Claude Hopkins, “is among the strongest of human incentives.”

"Amen!” shout Marty Edelston, Brian Kurtz, Mel Martin and Gene Schwartz.

"Boy Howdy!” proclaim Parris Lampropoulos, Arthur Johnson and others.

Boardroom, Inc. is – as far as I can tell – the single most successful soft-offer direct response marketer in America. And Boardroom and its writers learned long ago that, for them at least, the path to profit paradise is paved NOT with in-your-face benefit-oriented headlines and copy, but with curiosity and intrigue:

The flirtatious smile … the demurely raised hem … the glimpse of forbidden flesh … the implication of otherwise prohibited pleasures to come … leaves readers panting for more. And of course, the only way to get more is to mail the reply card!

And so, Boardroom has pioneered the use of “fascinations” to sell its books and newsletters on personal finance and health.

Instead of barraging prospects with blatant benefits in its headlines and body copy, Boardroom’s legendary controls tease, titillate and tempt prospects – intensifying their curiosity to almost unbearable levels – and then inviting them to satisfy their curiosity for free.

“Send no money NOW!” they proclaim, “Just mail this card for your FREE, 60-day preview. If you don’t love it, just send it back and owe nothing. If you do love it, do nothing. We’ll bill you later!”

Beautiful. Just beautiful. And more than that: A perfect fit for the product being sold.

See, every self-help book or newsletter you’ve ever read contained two kinds of information or advice:

A) Real, ingenious, forehead-slapping “Ah-HA!” tips you would never have thought of yourself – and that empower you to save time, save money, make more money, solve a problem or achieve something else wonderful, and …

B) More obvious, common-sense, mundane, even pedantic stuff you already know – but if followed, would also do all of the above.

So Boardroom’s copywriters simply …

> Give away the most amazing forehead-slappers in sidebars, thus proving how ingenious the tips in publication really are, and …

> Use the more common-sense tips to create scores of “fascinations” – bulleted items that intrigue the reader while offering or implying a benefit – designed to crank-up prospects’ curiosity and make “not ordering” a virtual impossibility.

The “forehead-slapper” sidebars are a breeze to write. Just take the tip, add a smidgeon of drama, and you’ve got a proof element that would persuade even the most skeptical prospect of the product’s value.

But writing great fascinations is an art form demanding a great eye, well-developed skill and tremendous creativity.

Take Boardroom’s world famous “What Never to Eat on an Airplane” fascination for example: Want to know the answer? What is it that you should never eat when flying?

Are you ready for the Earth-shaking answer to this great mystery?

Here it is: Food!

Intestinal gas is the natural byproduct of digestion. On an airplane, that gas expands as cabin pressure decreases with altitude. Result: You feel bloated; uncomfortable. Or worse: It could trigger an embarrassing er … “faux pax.”

Now think about that for a moment. You’re a copywriter, plowing through a 400-plus page Boardroom book, preparing to write your sales copy. Among hundreds of gems of advice, you come across a small, seemingly obvious travel tip: Eating while flying gives you the farts.

Common sense – right? Not exactly a life-changing insight – correct? Most folks would be tempted to just move on.

Not to a great fascination writer! Immediately, the mind goes to work, turning that seemingly insignificant factoid over and over … examining it from every angle … finding an element of intrigue or irony … identifying the implied benefit … and voila! … a great fascination is born.

More than a fascination, really – a headline that skillfully used intrigue … curiosity … seduction to persuade prospects to read the promotion that mailed profitably to millions of homes.

In most cases, this kind of seduction tends to work best in promotions of information products: Books, special reports, newsletters, seminars – that kind of thing. But I’ll bet that if you put on your thinking cap, you could figure out ways to use this powerful persuader in just about any kind of promotion you write!

‘Suasion Strategy #5:
Appeal to Your Prospects’ Core Beliefs,
Values and Traditions

Every human being you meet is a bundle of beliefs – and everything you’ll ever say to him or her will be filtered through those beliefs before being accepted as fact.

Contradict any one of those beliefs, and your sales argument grows weaker. Contradict enough of them, and your credibility is shot.

Conversely, acknowledging and using prospects’ pre-existing beliefs to reason with them can be one of the most powerful persuasion strategies you’ll ever use.

Here in the U.S., for example, the older prospects I appeal to in promotions for investment, finance and health products, tend to hold many common beliefs, values and traditions.

Beginning in elementary school, nearly all of us were taught the principles America was founded upon: Belief in a Moral Authority that is greater than ourselves; greater, even, than our government … the belief that all people should be considered equal in terms of their rights and responsibilities under law … that we have an inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness … that we have the right to benefit from our own labor and to own property … and that have the right to say any damn thing that comes to mind, any damn time we damn well feel like it.

In addition, the vast majority of Americans over 50 were raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Most attended church or synagogue at some point in their lives (often when they were most impressionable, as children) – and many of the beliefs and values they hold today are rooted in that experience.

It’s hard to go wrong appealing to their shared sense of right and wrong … their belief that they should treat others as they want to be treated … that honesty is always the best policy … in owning up for their mistakes and making things right … in their responsibility to provide for loved ones … in their obligation to forgive others, to care for the needy, defend the defenseless and more.

And of course, they tend to believe that anyone who doesn’t believe in all of these things as fervently as they do is a scoundrel and therefore completely unworthy of their trust.

Connecting your sales appeal to any of these shared beliefs may well be the single most powerful way to persuade prospects to read your message, to agree with your propositions and to perform the action you ask of them.

It’s kind of like marketing jujitsu, when you think about it: Your prospect’s beliefs already have him headed in the direction you want him to go. Your sales message just helps him get there faster.

Take a promotion for a financial product, for example …

I’ve found that headlines using Biblical phrases are a powerful way to communicate volumes in just a few words: A headline I used, “The Four Horsemen of The Stock Market Apocalypse” was an obvious play on a passage from the Book of Revelation and had enormous visceral appeal for prospects.

The copy – a somewhat shocking exercise in free speech – was pregnant with indictments of powerful politicians and bureaucrats who routinely violate my prospects’ sense of right and wrong and patriotism by setting America up for an economic Armageddon.

Results: Millions mailed. Millions in sales. Hundreds of thousands in royalties. Happy copywriter. Deliriously happy client.

Think: In what ways does your product connect with your prospect’s core beliefs, values and traditions? Make those connections in your sales messages and watch your response soar!

‘Suasion Strategy #6:
Perform a Brain Bypass!

When a prospect’s beliefs are fervently held, it’s only natural that he would have strong feelings about those who agree with him – and even stronger ones about those who don’t.

Merely invoking those beliefs can be enough to spur a prospect to action without long chains of logic or ticking off all the “reasons why” your selling premises are valid.

More than that: A well-crafted emotional argument can allow you to bypass the brain altogether!

Take political fund-raising promotions for example …

To me, donating money to any politician or political group is like entering into a second marriage: The triumph of hope over experience.

Democrats have been promising to end poverty for decades. Republicans have been promising to balance the budget for decades. To hear both parties tell it, the only reason they’ve both failed to deliver is … they need YOU to pony up just one more $100 contribution!

Anyone with an IQ larger than my shoe size knows that for the average citizen, throwing money at politicians is pointless. Neither party ever delivers the goods. In fact, if the world was a fair place, the Federal Trade Commission would descend on Congress, arrest the lot of them and throw them all in the pokey on charges of deceptive advertising.

… And yet hundreds of billions of dollars are raised every year by politicians – freely donated by registered Republicans and Democrats alike.

Why? Because the copywriters who write political fund-raising appeals perform a brain bypass on them!

They know that all you have to do to get a Democrat to crack open his checkbook is to suddenly flash a picture of George Bush and yell, “BOO!” And, they’re keenly aware that the mere mention of the name “Hillary” is enough to get a Republican reciting his credit card number out loud … even to a complete stranger.

In short, they know that you don’t raise money by singing the praises of your candidate. You raise money by scaring the bejesus out of potential donors by raising the specter of the horrifying alternative.

This principle can be used with tremendous success in promotions for many kinds of products – even products that actually deliver the benefits they promise!

In a health promotion, for example, I once wrote, “Most surgeons are so greedy, they’ll gladly cut a hole clean through you just to get at your wallet.”

In a financial package on retirement, I once said, “The Social Security racket is so shamelessly corrupt, it’s been known to make mafia dons blush, then turn green with envy.”

Ah, rhetoric. Ain’t it grand?

So who’s the enemy your prospect is just dying to slap in the face with a lemon meringue pie? Make him your enemy too.

Put your prospect’s feelings into emotionally charged words. Offer sweet revenge in the form of your product. Then sit back and count the money as it rolls in!


Now, if you haven’t gleaned a half-dozen or so ideas for promotions you’re working on now, you read this issue too fast.

My advice: Read it again. S-l-o-w-l-y. Think about how you can put each one of these ‘suasion strategies to work ramping up response in your next promotion. Take notes.

I just did, and I gotta go write some headlines now!

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

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3 Responses to More Advanced Copywriting Techniques
Persuading Prospects to Buy

  1. William says:


    You’ve hit it out of the park again! What an insightful article. I have been doing marketing for 25 years and written countless ads, direct mail and brochures without ever really grasping what you have said in your newsletters. I see my colleagues going off on the
    “I’m going to convince you with pure logic” approach in their copy. I feel I am now armed with “A” level copywriter tools!

    Thanks for a great newsletter. Its ALWAYS the first thing I read everyday.


  2. Walter Daniels says:

    Great suggestions, except for the “appeal to emotion,” part. Just like the old “you can fool some of the time. . .,” it has worked in the past for most. However, I see an increasing of people seeing through that, or at least ignoring it politically. As I see it, the Internet has exposed people to so many scammers, and frauds that they grow increasingly immune. Some of the parties use the emotional appeal to deepen the lack of thought, so that they can use it later as an appeal for money.
    The same things are happening in IM offers. Those who believe the overblown hype are being butchered like cheap cattle, and the numbers are dropping. A byproduct is that those same people are an influence (minor) on the whole market.
    A good, to me, emotional hook that can be used carefully is honesty. Either as a direct appeal of honesty, or the old Joe Isuzu type “honesty.” :-) The JI ads worked well because people had stopped believing car sales people, and exaggerated lies, hit a responsive chord.
    Because politicians have lied so openly, people are going to be less trusting and more demanding of honesty.That means emotional appeals will receive more scrutiny. Once caught in lies, credibility will disappear from overuse.

  3. Alphonso says:

    Greetings Clayton;

    Priceless, you’re a predator with class, the your years of demographic and psycographic split testing, are
    like a lighthouse to ships coming to habor, thank you sir!

    =>Stay Frosty!

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