You Ask I Answer


Dear Business-Builder,

This week I thought I would answer a few of the questions you’ve been asking me most often through The Total Package’s feedback box – like …

“How do I Know When I’ve Written ENOUGH?”

Q: “I see different styles of websites from the long-copy style to shorter copy like Amazon. How do you know which is the best one to use?

“For instance if you are selling team-building services to local government agencies and not-for-profit organizations should the website be structured differently than someone selling e-books on how to be a great copywriter?”

A: Hmmm … OK, so let’s think about this for a moment …

Why do people go to Amazon.com?

I’m usually looking for something I already want – a book on a particular subject … or by a specific author … or in some cases, a specific title.

Or, I might go there to shop for a particular genre of music (raggedy-ass Mississippi Delta blues, usually!) – or maybe to find a CD by a particular artist or perhaps even a specific album.

I also click over to Amazon to price shop. If I’m looking for a flat-panel TV, I know I’ll find most of the major brands there, along with the specifications for each model.

And of course, after I buy what I’m looking for, I often toss a few additional impulse items into my shopping cart just for the fun of it.

So, if, like Amazon, your market is “everyone in the whole wide world” … “people who already know what they want” … comparison shoppers and impulse buyers …

And if you’ve got a gazillion products on your site …

And if you have hundreds of millions of simoleons to spend herding the masses to it …

The Amazon “short copy”, “online catalog” model just might be the best way to for you to go.

But if, on the other hand, your market is somewhat narrower … if you have only one, two or a handful of products to offer, all your own brand … if you’re relatively unknown to your best prospects … if you’re competing with others offering products that could be misconstrued by the casual observer as similar to yours …

… you’re going to have to tell your prospects one heckuva lot more than Amazon tells its shoppers!

You’re going to need copy that engages your prospect at the point of his need … headline and deck copy that intrigues and ultimately seduces him into reading your message … proof elements that establish your iron-clad credibility early and often … and benefits that sing and soar.

You’ll need to demonstrate why your price is a pittance compared to the benefits you offer … present your guarantee, then step back, put your arm around your prospect’s shoulders and marvel at its sheer audacity … ask for the sale in ways that make the purchase decision seem like an IQ test … and make ordering so easy even Britney Spears could do it without taxing her severely limited mental resources – even in her blondest “blond moment”.

And that means (drum roll, please …) LONG COPY!

On your home page, you can still include involvement devices – self-tests, free tools your market will find helpful, streaming audio and video – to make your site sticky and to keep prospects coming back to you.

But when it comes to your shopping cart pages, write until you run out of benefits. The 120-year-old direct marketing mandate has yet to be disproved: The more you tell, the more you sell.

“Your eyes are getting very, very heavy …
you’re reaching for your wallet …
you’re handing all your money to me …”

Q: “In your interview with Daniel Levis, one of you broached the subject of "hypnosis." I believe that the key point was that, at a certain level, good copywriting – any good writing, actually – does exercise a certain type of influence over the reader.

“What can the copywriter learn by examining the science of hypnosis?”

A: Great question!

… And boy, do I ever wish I had an intelligent, informed answer for you!

The truth is, I’ve never looked into the whole “copywriting as hypnosis” thing. Like the great Vince Lombardi, I’ve built my career simply by focusing on the fundamentals.

I never set out to do anything but …

  1. Seize attention and promote readership by engaging my prospects’ most dominant resident fears, frustrations and desires…
  2. Present every compelling rational reason why the prospect should buy the product…
  3. Prove every statement of fact and product claim beyond the shadow of a doubt…
  4. Put my offer up in lights, using it to demonstrate the incomparable value of the product’s benefits relative to price…
  5. Relieve my prospect’s risk and restate my benefits in a powerful guarantee that bonds new customers to my client…
  6. Ask for the sale in the most persuasive and emphatic way possible, and …
  7. Make sure ordering is easier than falling off a log.

What worries me is that some folks who talk about hypnotic copywriting seem to be confusing the art and science of skillfully persuading prospects with tactics for overtly manipulating them.

But persuasion and manipulation are two very, VERY different things …

Great sales copy persuades prospects by engaging their minds and emotions.

Manipulation – indeed, hypnosis – attempts to bypass the prospect’s conscious mind in order to get him to do something he would not ordinarily do and that he will probably regret later.

I have no interest in mesmerizing my prospects into docility and dumb obedience. Even if it were possible, that would be tricking them: Tantamount to slipping a roofie into a gal’s drink just to get a cheap sexual thrill. My momma raised me better than that!

I want my prospects awake, mentally alert, emotionally energized, intellectually engaged and ultimately, so convinced my product will bring value to their lives at every level, they can’t wait to order.

Now, my good friend Daniel tells me I have actually used hypnotic techniques in my promotions. If so, I assure you: I have no idea what they might be. If they’re there, it’s purely by accident.

Maybe I’m being too literal, here. Maybe folks who talk about “hypnotic” sales copy are using the word euphemistically: Referring to the riveting effect all engaging writing has on readers.

I have no argument with that whatsoever. Do your job well – master the fundamentals – and people will naturally hang on your every word. They may even say your copy is “hypnotic” – even though nobody’s going into a literal trance.

But that’s not a technique. It’s the result – the byproduct – of mastering the fundamentals.

Do hypnotic sales techniques really work? Yes and no …

When a LIVE salesman asks me a bunch of questions I can only answer “yes” to – or mindlessly repeats the same “power phrase” ad nauseum – it’s all I can do to resist breaking his nose.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Some repetition of key points in sales copy can be extremely effective. And using carefully crafted questions is a great way to help your prospect convince himself of critical sales points.

But a little of these techniques goes a long, long way. When overused, any reasonably intelligent prospect quickly realizes that the salesman is his adversary – NOT his advocate. He begins to feel manipulated, intimidated, diminished and used. And if his IQ is larger than his shoe size, insulted, indignant, even angry.

Nevertheless, these kinds of manipulative techniques are often employed – evidentially with success – mostly by LIVE salesmen looking to sell one product to one customer, one time: Vacuum cleaners … encyclopedias … burial insurance … time-shares … used cars … those kinds of things.

Why? Because …

  1. Most prospects are too polite – or too intimidated – to simply walk away or, if the sales presentation is made in their homes, sic the dogs on the obnoxious bastard who uses these insulting techniques on them.
  2. Every sale ends in a legally binding contract. That means the customer has few if any options for getting his money back when he “snaps out of it” and musters up the courage to try to do so.

But when used in situations where the prospect can escape simply by deleting your email, closing a browser window, changing the channel or trashing your direct mail package – and can easily invalidate the sale simply by demanding a refund – it pays to treat prospects with respect.

And when your mission is to create extended, trusting, mutually profitable relationships with each new customer, insulting his or her intelligence at the outset strikes me as being just plain dumb.

Of course, I may just be acting on a post-hypnotic suggestion here … but my advice is, do the work. Invest the skull sweat. Take pains with your sales copy. Avoid shortcuts and other techniques that sound too good to be true or that tempt you to get lazy with your sales arguments.

Now, I’m going to count to three. When I snap my fingers, you will awake, you will feel refreshed and you will remember every word I just said. One … two …

“Help Me – PLEASE Help Me!”

Q: “I’m looking for the best available info to build my writing skills into a profitable business in the next few months. Any help you can suggest is appreciated. Please … please … please!”

A: Doesn’t this question sound a lot like Little Richard on that insurance commercial?

Building a successful freelance copywriting business is much the same as creating any successful new business.

You essentially need two major ingredients to succeed …

FIRST, you need a great product: As a copywriter, your product is sales copy that grabs prospects by the eyeballs, compels them to read your message, convinces them of your credibility, excites them with mental images of the benefits the product will provide, presents an offer that feels too good to refuse, and makes the prospect of “not ordering” seem downright masochistic.

Copywriting is fun because it’s challenging. Great copywriters never stop learning.

Here’s what I recommend to anyone looking to sharpen their copywriting skills…

Keep reading The Total Package. Our back issues alone contain marketing secrets and strategies that will put you light years ahead of your competition. Unless, of course, they read The Total Package too!

Also, I’d strongly recommend you sign up for Daniel Levis’ Info-Marketer’s Blog™ and Troy White’s Cash Surge Newsletter™. Both deliver tons of valuable marketing insights and advice gleaned from real-world experiences with real-world clients … and both are free.

If you’re not already reading Bencivenga’s Bullets, I strongly suggest that you get a free subscription right away. Gary is a living legend in copywriting; studying his copy and learning from him have made me millions.

I also recommend the Bob Bly Direct Response Letter … and Early to Rise is also a great source of business building wisdom.

I also love Jack Forde’s eletter – Copywriter’s Roundtable … and John Carlton’s Marketing Rebel is a hoot.

  • Study The Masters. Buy, read and memorize the 17 classics I recommend on our FAQ page – and then re-read them at least once every year!
  • Get more specific training. If you’re just beginning your copywriting career, getting specific training can significantly reduce your learning curve. Of course, I’m partial to our own Quick-Start Copywriting System, which covers the entire process of writing highly persuasive copy from A-Z.
  • I also strongly recommend American Writers and Artists Inc. AWAI offers two excellent copywriting courses that were created by one of the greatest copywriter/entrepreneurs ever.
  • Study every scrap of junk mail you can get your hands on and every e-mail blast and promotional landing page you see on the Web. Buy and subscribe to several products in the industries you want to work in. As each company’s mail list is rented to others, you’ll have a wealth of promotions to study and learn from every week.
  • If you’re not already signed up for Weiss Research’s Money and Markets newsletter, you should do so immediately. You’ll be able to quickly build a large swipe file of online financial copy. Much of which is written by yours truly!
  • Attend the best live events available: Conferences on direct marketing and copywriting are fantastic – both for their content and for the valuable contacts you’ll make with potential clients. Two of the best are AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Early to Rise’s Info-Marketing Bootcamp.
  • But please be careful: Lots of the events being touted on the web as genuine “marketing conferences” are little more than pitch-a-thons – light on content and heavy on high-pressure sales tactics. They’re not designed to help you – only to sell you expensive home-study courses and the like.

  • Practice, practice, practice! If you have clients, work your tail off for them. If not, create and market your own products. If you can’t do that, pick products you see promoted and practice by writing promotions you think would beat the daylights out of ‘em.
  • Write every day – even if you’re just copying great copy verbatim out of other people’s promotions to imprint the tones and techniques they use in your mind.

… AND SECOND, there’s the business side of things. You’ll need to master the most effective ways to select the best clients, promote your services to them, secure plum assignments, structure profitable working arrangements, collect what’s owed you and more.

There are several products that offer solid advice on this … if you’re interested in learning how “America’s HIGHEST-PAID copywriter” does it, you’ll probably want to seriously consider purchasing The Makepeace Business System.

Here’s your 30-second condensed version…

  1. Identify the clients you want to work for. I used The Oxbridge Directory for newsletters to create my own list of newsletter publishers. Directory of Major Mailers is great, too. If the names of the creative directors or marketing directors aren’t listed, call each company and get them from the receptionist.
  2. Send them a letter. Send it in a Fed Ex envelope and say you have some great ideas for one of their products and ask them to call you. Include samples of your writing and of course, information on any winners you’ve created for other clients. Ask them to call you on a specific day. Say if you don’t hear from them, you’ll call next week.
  3. Call next week. Bottom line? You’re a salesman. A copywriter. YOU are the most important product you’ll ever sell. So pull out all the stops. Make every communication you have with prospective clients a demonstration of your skill.

That’s what I did … and it made me millions!

“How Can I Tell The Difference Between
Good Sales Copy and Bad Sales Copy?”

Q: “In some ways, there are conflicting ideas on what makes good copy and what doesn’t. You obviously know this by heart. Where do I begin?

“Teach us almighty gifted one. We’ve come searching the mountain for your wisdom. ;-)

A: “Almighty gifted one?” Oh puhleeze! Do you SEE what I have to put up with?

Actually, a little good-natured kidding is kinda fun – and pales in comparison to some of the e-mails I’ve been getting lately.

One lady wants me to produce a bunch of clones of myself so she can marry one of them.

Another wants to light a bunch of candles, open a bottle of Dom, get naked and … here it comes … brace yourself … ready? … TALK MARKETING with me!

Thank you, ladies, from the bottom of my heart. You have made my day.

Now getting back to our all-important question …

The definition of great copy is, “Copy that produces great results”.

The quality of your copy isn’t defined by the techniques you use. Nor is it determined by how many family, friends, clients or focus group participants tell you it’s great.

Only one kind of person in the world gets to decide whether you rule or suck: Prospects who cast their votes by responding to your copy in the only way that matters – by spending their own hard-earned money.

So the answer is…

… the only way to know good copy for sure is to use it … measure the result … and compare that result with those produced by other similar promotions.

Can you get a feel for how your prospects might vote on your sales copy?

Is it possible to spot weaknesses that if repaired will probably increase response?

In a word, “Yep.”

Just try this: As you’re reading sales copy – whether your own or someone else’s, ask yourself,

  • Does the headline and lead stop me in my tracks and make me want to read the sales message?
  • Is the tone of the copy appropriate for the message being delivered?
  • Is it written using the kind of language my typical prospect is likely to use himself in day-to-day communication?
  • Does the spokesperson come of sounding like my advocate – someone who’s intensely committed to helping improve my life – and NOT like just another salesman?
  • Does the copy offer me a benefit or a series of benefits I’m willing to pay for?
  • Does the copy convince me that this product can actually deliver those benefits to me?
  • Does it convince me that this product is unique in its ability to deliver those benefits?
  • Does the copy answer every objection to making the purchase I can think of?
  • Do I feel as though I’m moving through the sales copy quickly and effortlessly? Is it devoid of spots that seem dull, repetitive, slow-going and that allow my mind to wander?
  • Do I feel my excitement rising with each new paragraph I read?
  • Does the price seem insignificant compared to the value I’m being offered?
  • Do I feel an irresistible urge to purchase this product from this company, TODAY?

When you and everyone else you show the copy to can answer an emphatic “YES” to each of these questions, there’s a darned good chance you’ve got a winner on your hands.

Hope this helps!

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

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9 Responses to You Ask I Answer

  1. Drayton says:

    I do not see the Amazon site as an example of short copy. There is an ocean of copy on it. Copy that aims not just to sell you one book or product but another and another – as Clayton points out.

  2. There’s certainly plenty to read at Amazon with the user reviews. I’ve always thought that there is an in-built bias is that people are more likely to write about stuff they love.

  3. Nina says:

    As a new copywriter, what if you don’t have “winning” samples to show your prospective client? In that scenario what should you do? Thanks!

  4. Nick says:

    I agree that Amazon isn’t the actual example of short copy. They provide tons of reviews for almost every product, and these reviews act like long and persuading copy.

  5. Thomas says:

    In todays age of mobile marketing isn’t long copy dead or at least a dying vehicle?

  6. John says:

    I’ve had this 1 question that I cannot seem to find an answer for even after years of reading articles. I’m hoping I find it in “The Makepeace Business System” I just ordered.

    I want to break into the copywriting business and have been thinking about how fees are structured
    and I hear copywriters talking about a % of the profit from
    the success of the mailer or Royalties

    That question is-
    How or who do you rely on to track a companies success/$$$
    and how do you measure and get paid on that success?
    what if it’s a small business?

    Anyone have an insight?

  7. Chris McMorrow says:

    Clayton, you’re always so darn kind to us lesser mortals.

    Thanks a lot for giving away what I always consider to be free gold – gold you’ve had to buy and pay for by the sweat of your brow.

    Am a big fan of the Grateful Dead, but I need to expand my horizons a bit.

    Any recommendations on the “raggedy-ass Mississippi Delta blues” front? Got a whole bunch of John Lee Hooker, but I’m sure open to suggestions.

    Thanks again for everything you do!

    Sincerely,

    Chris McMorrow

  8. Steven says:

    Clayton, is this an early Christmas gift for us?

    In this 3000-word post, you have:
    - outlined 7 main points of a highly converting sales copy
    - gave us 12 essential questions to analyze any kind of sales copy
    - shared tons of amazing advices and ideas from your rich history in marketing and copywriting arena
    - and finally, you referred us to genuine marketing top guns who have helped numerous people (including you) skyrocket their profits.
    - reminded us all to reread the marketing classics and obey Ogilvy’s “Thou shall not market until you have read Scientific Advertising 7 times!”. :)

    Thank you, I love all posts on this site, I just hope I’ll be able to offer at least 1/10 of value of each post here to my sites’ subscribers one day. And I know how and what I will do to get as close as possible to that goal.

    I’d love to post one question for you, but, as it always happen when I get such opportunity, ideas have locked into their shelters and will come out only when the opportunity leaves the scene.

    But I’d be interested to know more about the way you do research when you get hired to write a copy, ie. what specific info do you seek (company history, values, goals), how do you find out what exactly motivates them and what are their ‘hot buttons’, etc. The psychological side of the game. Influence and persuasion. Research.

    Thank you once again, this post is going directly onto my hard drive, in case you decide to take it off because it contains more value than anyone sane would give away for free. Just kidding. I can just say that I’ve seen commercial books on copywriting that contain less info and wisdom than you have shared here.

    – Steven

  9. Great post as usual Clayton.

    I have copied and pasted your bullet point checklists for great copy for future reference.

    Re: John, in terms of tracking the results of sales, by the time you’re on a comission share with a company then you should have a relationship with them such that you get regular reports from them on sales. And the ability to go into their backend to verify if you want.

    The Makepeace Business System will lay it all for you.
    If you want to chat to someone that’s been doing it (made about 80k in commissions this year -small fry compared to Clayton but still) then get in touch with me through my website http://www.conversionmasters.com.au

    Happy to help. Going onto fee plus percentage was the best thing that ever happened to my business and Clayton showed me the way!

    John

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