Direct Response Copywriting Notes
Direct response copywriting - read this first
This document contains my notes as I teach myself direct response copywriting.
Copy, short for sales copy refers to the text used for marketing goods and services.
Direct response copywriting is a subset of the above. It focuses on getting the reader to take action.
Direct response is not intended to build a brand or improve one's image with the public. It ends with a prompt for action. The more effective the direct response copy, the greater the number of readers who take action.
Do you have any suggestions? Let me know! I'm updating this page multiple times each week.
- Many fields like finance and medicine are highly regulated. As such, you would be wise to have lawyers approve any copy for them.
Table of Contents
- Anatomy of longform copy
- Back-end vs front-end offers
- Beating the system
- Benefits, not features
- Call to action
- Copywriting briefs
- Customer demographics
- Customer motivation
- Faking evidence
- False options
- Finding Work
- Formatting to add emphasis
- Four Ps
- Four Us
- Give your offering an attention-grabbing name
- How much to charge?
- Idioms and language
- Images, diagrams, charts
- It's a big club and you ain't in it
- Just two guys talking
- Learned helplessness
- Pattern interrupt
- Peer pressure
- Problem-Change-Tool-Pitch Blueprint
- Process for copywriting
- Remove yourself
- Risk / Safety
- Sell, don't educate
- Social proof
- Swipe files
- Testing copywriting
AIDA is a blueprint from going from cold prospect to customer.
NOTE: The famous Alec Baldwin scene from the move Glengarry Glen Ross incorrectly states the "D" stands for decision.
Anatomy of longform copy
- Eyebrow - introduce the headline, builds credibility eg Leading health experts agree:
- Headline - Very important, helps reader to decide if letter is worth reading eg Water causes dehydration. This section is usually larger and bolder than the rest in order to stand out and grab the reader's attention. You can use others' headlines as templates eg The Secret Behind [X] that will shock you! (fill in the blanks). This is the only part of your copy that EVERYONE will read, so it's essential to get it right. If you don't grab the reader by his eyeballs, it won't matter how good the rest of your copy is - he won't read it.
- Deck copy - Explains the headline a bit more, helps to build interest in reading body. But we've figured out how to get around the problem
- Lead - Get them interested / whets their appetite (a handful of pages long). The "how" should be discussed in this section. It should be mysterious.
- Body - Deal with objections that might prevent them with buying
- Offer - The ask - Here's my solution, buy it now!
Many people are surprised how long long form copy can be. It's not long because you're trying to wear the reader down (that's boring for the reader). It's long because a) you need space to tackle every objection b) to build excitement. Don't make your documents long for the sake of longness. Instead take the space you need to convince the reader to take action. Remember, words on their own aren't just worthless, they're negative value. If words aren't helping, they are taking attention away from the words that do work.
Back-end vs front-end offers
The more of a connection between buyer and seller, the easier it is to sell.
That's why, when there is a chance for repeated contact, sellers will attempt to pitch small items at the start (front-end) and big expensive products after a number of contacts (back-end).
In pricing, front-end items are often called tripwire products, though I also refer to them as a method for building a beachhead (of trust).
It should be noted that front-end products aren't just avenues for profit, they can also establish credibility when you're ready to pitch the back-end item. You've bought my $12 ebook, so you know I'm good. Here's by $5,000 service
Beating the system
It's not just about how good the results, but how quickly and easily they come. Think about "cheating the system" Everyone hates being held down by an external source or physical limitations of reality. That's why superheroes are so powerful. Wouldn't it be great if you could sell being a superhero? Sure, all it takes it providing away to remove arbitrary limitations.
Benefits, not features
Benefits sell, features don't. How will this offering improve the reader's life?
Make benefits more relatable.
- OK - Earn 10% profit a year
- Better - Earn enough to buy a car
- Best - Protect your future so that you aren't forced to live in a van by the river and eat cat food when you are in your seventies.
Making things more relatable doesn't mean more specific or more testable. Often it can allow you to move from testable and falsifiable promises to more abstract concepts.
The more quickly the benefits can come and with the least effort, the more interesting the offer becomes. just floss for two weeks, and I guarantee that you'll feel the difference
Although benefits are important, emotions are more so.
Call to action
It's usually better to find the x% of readers who will most likely convert and speak to them, rather than attempting to appeal to the larger group, as doing so will likely reduce the conversion of the top X%.Provide 2 to 3 options;
- Buy now and have all of your problems solved
- Don't buy and have you life be worth absolutely nothing
- Try to reach your goals without me, but it will be hard, time-consuming, and risky (optional)
ORProvide two options, leaving out that the reader can not buy. I mean why would the reader even think that's a reasonable option after your fine long form copy??
- Offering A
- Offering B
Use a false dilema / false dichotomy - present the options of either drastic failure or purchasing the item
Consider using fear to push them over the edge - order now before supplies run out.
- Soft give-aways - sign up for a free trial
- Hard sell - sign up to buy something
Tally up all of the offerings to dollar amounts and demonstrate how valuable the total package is. Then try to find some type of way to convince the reader it isn't just about the money, there are some things that money cannot buy (like piece of mind)
If you are introducing a new desire into the reader's mind, you may have luck. If you can uncover an existing desire (even if latent) and kindle it, you will have better luck. Bad: You need to soar over the clouds with a flying car Good: you need freedom, which you'll find when flying over the clouds in our flying car
State a high price for the offering (anchor it high), then walk it down several levels to the point at which the actual price seems low.
Add a secondary freebie (but wait, there's more!). People love getting free stuff, and if they were on the fence before, they'll jump with just a bit more added value.
Build the risk of inaction - make the consequences of inaction appear to be disastrous on a monumental scale, especially when compared with the cost of action.Formula: Benefit_of_action - Cost_of_action = Potential_for_profit
Disguise the true meaning of the action / build it up. Your goal may be for the reader to make a purchase, but what does it really signify to the reader? Take that first step to weight loss / show people you're brave / become the person you always wanted to be
False dissuasion - Tell people not to take action, when you really want to take action. Only sign up if you mean it / only sign up if you're going to put in the work / Only sign up if you want to improve your future.
It is possible to make something look risk free, even when it isn't. For example, let's say that I offer sports betting guidance and charge $25 per tip AND I promise that it's risk free, because I won't charge anything for tips that are wrong. Is that really risk free? No. Because the amount a reader would lose on betting will far outweigh the money spent on the tip. The only person who is risk-free here is the sports betting tip company, because he can just pick winners randomly, and still get money from half of its customers.
Have a summary of all the benefits that were described earlier in the letter, right before closing. Now, we've talked about safety, reliability, and style. Why wouldn't you want to buy this car? It will keep the benefits in mind before you shock them with the price, or ask them to take action.
Your goal shouldn't look like a sales pitch so much as an offer to address your reader's needs.
You should have exactly 1 call to action. Never more than 1, because it confuses the messaging and makes the reader think about which to do, and provides an opportunity to take no action at all.
Calls to action should be as simple as possible (but not simpler). Users will be more likely to enter their email addresses into a form than to fill out a 50 question survey. Also note that the drip method can be used. Once you have their email, you can grab more information later.
Look for benefits that cost nothing to provide. Is there a tax advantage to what you're selling? etc
Offer to stake your reputation on it. The reader may not know who you are, but he knows that he values his reputation, so clearly, the writer must value his too, right? Closing with a hand-written signature and the writer's full name and contact information bolsters this claim.
Focus on urgency. If it's not urgent, the call to action can be put off til later (and ultimately forgotten). Focus upon an impending inflection point when rules, realities, or beliefs will suddenly change. Ie fall of Soviet Union, US Civil War, Invention of penicillin. Readers are starting to get wise to the concept of false urgency, so you'll want to be careful how you express it. It should be:
- Plausible - If quantities are limited, why don't you just make more?
- Externally caused - If someone else is creating the urgency, then it's clearly not a trick being played by you
- Not intended for the reader - Make it clear that you don't want this person to be effected by the lack of availability, so you're reaching out to avoid it (and work around the cause of urgency)
- Painful to the offerer if reader misses out - We only have ten items left, and I'd feel awful if you were one of the people locked out of this tremendous offer
The urgency isn't just to make them feel the offer is more valuable (rare things are worth more), but to make them take action immediately. The longer they take to do something, the more likely they will forget or read some other better sales letter than does push the urgency angle.
It should be noted that urgency isn't always one of quantity. Date can matter too If you don't sign up for selective service by age 18, you won't be eligible for....
Consider upsells, if the upsells are easy. Ie, pick one of these three options (good, better, best).
Claims should get bigger and bolder as you go on, not just because you can build upon the credibility you've build previously, but because it gets readers more and more excited to buy.
Use ratcheting to make bigger and bolder claims as you go. The early ones will prep them for the bolder claims that will really sell them.
Your argument can be flaky, if the evidence is indisputable.
Using like to fake relevance
You can use the word like to fake relevance without proof. ex I worked at some of the Fortune 500s like Tesla, IBM, etc -- Is working as a cashier at McDonald's technically working at a Fortune 500? You better believe it.
Copywriters can conduct research to try to figure out what would make their customers happy, but it usually makes sense for them to just ask.
A copywriting brief is basically a collection of facts that the copywriter can use to ensure that what he creates will be effective and accepted.
It's a great idea for client intake as it will increase customer satisfaction, reduce risk of failure, and cut down on work required.
It should include information like what is below (more is better):Very important:
- Unique Selling Proposition (USP) / Main selling point
- Ideal customer
- Product description
- Product benefits
- Level of sales aggressiveness
- Action for customers to take
- How will the customer change after taking action?
- Focus words / keywords / SEO words
- Legal constraints don't guarantee our product will cure cancer
- Common objections / sticking points
- Product reviews
- Evidence to support claims
- Current sales materials
- How customers have gotten to the copy (did they receive other emails / already buy something / etc.)
CredibilityCredibility has two functions:
- De-risk an offer (likelihood of result)
- support claims of how well it works (magnitude of result)
Your assertions and identity should be built up with evidence.
One big mistake is that it's not just about proving you're smart, so much as proving you are trustworthy. A person from a specific college may trust a fellow alumnus more than one from a more prestigious school.
This is one of the key pillars - if readers don't trust you, why would they buy from you?Build credibility via:
- Social proof - do other people like/trust/purchase from you?
- Direct evidence - can you point to prior successes?
Curiosity helps generate interest. If you get them interested, than resolve the issue which got them interested, why are they going to continue reading? They won't.
Tell people what your offering is not.Let's pretend you have a weight loss method_exists
- It's not a diet
- It's not exercise
- It's not difficult
The head fake
Everyone in a while you can offer a head fake. Present an option that doesn't sound great You can lose weight through better diet and then say that the choice isn't necessary but that's not part of my specialized plan. It keeps things interesting, shocks them into paying attention all while affirming your message.
You can create an open loop by saying that you'll explain what's going on later, but the reader should focus on the promised results know. This has a nice effect of temporarily disarming some of the objections.
As a copywriter, you are focused on creating copy. Someone else is responsible for building up mailing lists and getting your message out. That said, it is vital that you understand who your reader is, what their needs/desires are, and what makes them tick. Otherwise, how can you hope to connect?
Imagine that you're selling a new car to everyone in the world. How would you know what would attract buyers? Some care about speed, others about cost, others about trunk space, others about comfort, others about reliability... the list goes on. If you focus on the wrong characteristics, or try to cover all of them, you will not attract many (or even any) buyers.
Specific messaging attracts specific customers. Non-specific messaging attracts no one.
It is vital to understand what is his biggest fear and/or goal in order to explain why your offering will be relevant to it.
Knowing your audience is also knowing its knowledge base and scepticism. As someone with degrees in economics and business, I see a lot of long copy for financial products that scream scam to me within the first few lines. Nevertheless, they make their publishers billions. I am not their intended audience, so why would they care if I would find their sales copy compelling? All they care about is what their target thinks about it - even then, all they care about is if their target takes action. This is also true with respect to interests. A company could be selling soccer memorabilia. Even if I believe the company is 100% trustworthy, my opinion still won't matter, because I have no interest in soccer.
If you have this information you can understand how to communicate with your reader, but more important you can work with him so that he self-qualifies himself, either via challenges or descriptions. This is only for true pretzel lovers or Only sign up if you really care about improving yourself
A company is probably not a demographic. A given role at a type of company could be. Remember, the motivations of an individual at a company may not mirror the motivations of the company as a whole (principle-agent problem).
One of the biggest secrets of copywriting that I've never seen anyone admit: it's not about talking to your recipients and converting x%, it's about talking to the x% of your recipients that are most likely to commit - that means the ones who are least likely to express critical thought and most likely to go with their emotions.
You should be able to explain, in a single sentence, the motivation that your intended reader will have to take action.
If you can't put it into a single sentence, you won't be able to focus on the spirit. Many, if not all, readers may have multiple reasons to take action. Your job is to figure out the one that is:
- Most powerful at generating compulsion
- The easiest to tap into
- Regret *
You'll notice the regret has an asterisk next to it. You don't want to tap into the reader's regret, so much as your own. If only I knew then what I know now,,, this bolsters the credibility of the product, the authenticity of the author, and the desire to avoid the mistakes of others. Trifecta!
Some will note that beneficence is not on the list. That's right. Even charities are beginning to understand that those who donate don't just care about doing good, they care about WIIFT (what is in it for them). They want to feel good about their donations (a desire), so what can you do make them feel good? Don't just talk about how a donation will change the world talk about how it will make them feel, knowing that they were a part of, or even the reason for, the change.
It can often be useful to make negative desires appear noble. For instance, saying "this isn't just about making a tidy profit, but about building a future for your children"
Consider the phrase "It's not just an X, it's a Y" ex It's not just a cookbook, it's a means of ensuring your kids grow up healthy by getting the nutrients they need
You can tie into this with the concept of regret. You fear losing money in the future, but if you had used my system last year you would have earned (saved yourself from losing) all that money. The concept of "would have" is powerful because it lets you cherry pick examples and then talk about what could have happened, even if regular use of the product might not have such great results.
I don't think you want to focus on hope. Hope is more logical. If you're selling lottery, would hope or greed be more effective? Greed. Greed is good. Greed has push behind it. Hope doesn't. People who hope for things don't take action. People who want stuff get take action.
Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt (FUD)
Microsoft used this in the 90s, for good reason. If you can't find a problem that the reader knows exists, it's often good enough to talk about a problem that might exist, but the reader can't prove exists or not at present. Ex. You may have a lot of customers now, but are they thinking about switching to your competitor next year?
People hate to lose what they have (or could have). In fact, dollar for dollar, most people hate losing money more than not making money. The scientific name for this is loss aversion. If you can phrase your pitch as a way to avert loss, you'll be miles ahead. If you don't buy now, you might as well throw out $5,000 because inflation will destroy most of your savings
In finance, we are often required to say "past performance is no guarantee of future results" - nevertheless it is used in many other fields. Provide examples of what specific people did in the past and then show the results. You can even point out that you can't guarantee it will work for everyone, but look! It worked for these people, and are they any better than you, our lovely, wonderful reader? Use a lot of examples, even in a bulleted list. I'm not sure how cherry-picked examples make a point, but as you add more and more examples in a row, readers will feel like they are being bombarded with evidence (even though they're being bombarded with anecdotes)
Give lots of examples. If your product offers a 10% return, don't just say it presents a 10% return. Show a table with how much the reader can put in, and how much he'd earn based upon his investment.
Multiple data points
Bob correctly predicted that stocks would drop in years X, Y, and Z. Now he's predicting it again. Well, if he was right for those three points, maybe he's right again.
Reiteration can be a form of evidence. The more examples you give of outcomes, testimonials, processes, numbers -- the more they are accepted by the reader and re-enforced.
Redundancy is a great and powerful tool.
E pluribus unum -- out of many one
Pick an exceptional case and present it as though it were commonplace: One dieter lost more than 30 pounds in just two weeks by eating nothing but chocolate
Note: this is a form of cherry picking.
Often, it can be useful to see how a given product would have worked in the pas
Using backtesting to prove a model. Testing on live data can take a long time. Imagine waiting around to test your model on 500 new daily closes in the stock market. Every time you tweak the model, you'd have to wait 500 days to test the model against new data. This makes problems with the model very expensive to correct.
Instead, we can test against historical data. In theory, this is great because we can do it quickly and repeatedly until we find a model that scores well. Unfortunately, the resulting model may have little predictive value because it includes some biases (knowingly or not-knowingly). Find the team that won the most football games last year and create a model that always picks that team as the winner. Going backwards, it's very accurate. Take that same model and apply it to the following year - probably won't work nearly as well.
t and test it against those times. For instance, if you have a snow blower, how would it have fared against the past several winters in Boston?
- Just for fun I looked back at
- Out of curiosity, I checked what happened over the past 20 year
You want to ensure that the reader knows that you believe in the product and not question his faith. You are showing additional evidence to further prove a point. You are NOT running a test to see if you are right. Big difference!
Implying universal belief
Tell people what "everyone" knows, then go on to say why it's important. This technique will allow you to skip through (or use minimal evidence) and proceed to talking about the significance/result of that claim.
Everyone knows that the best way to build wealth is investing in municipal bonds
People have long believed that gold was a great hedge against inflation
Questions may be a good means of introducing claims without using evidence:
Are you tired of products that make empty claims that don't work? So are we! That's what caused us to invent product X.
There's an implicit claim here that product X does work. Where do we actually say it though?
Provide hyperbolically ridiculous options to make your point seem more reasonable. If you want to fall off a ladder while cleaning your gutters and spend 2 years in traction and $100,000 in medical bills, keep climbing those ladders, otherwise, just hire me to clean them for you while you relax safe in your comfortable bed. The choice to buy isn't just accepting of the offering, but the lifestyle it provides.
There's a delicate balance with fear. The writer should make the offer appear as safe as possible (no fear), but still dedicate time to making the lack of taking action scary (lots of fear).
Example: People die of heart attacks without any warning signs (fear associated with inaction) but take my FDA-approved pills to prevent heart attacks (no fear of taking)
GitHub - Find some opensource projects
Formatting to add emphasis
Don't go overboard. The more you use something, the less of an effect each will have, the more tacky it will look, and the harder it will be to read the document as a whole. Don't believe me? Find some old web pages that mention the blink tag.
- Font color
- Font size
- Font background (highlighting) color
- Font weight (bold)
- Font italics
- Font underline
- Font family (moving from Helvetica to Times New Roman)
- Font spacing (white space)
- Lists (either bulleted or numbered)
- Font positioning (left-aligned/centered/right-aligned)
- One or more of the above
Do each in order.
- Picture - the more detail the better, use descriptive and visual language to tackle emotion and sensory organs (eyes, nose, ears, etc)
- Proof - can you pull from real life stories that recipients might know or be able to fact check? ex. Gold has gone up 50% in price since my last offer to you. Often imperfect, but well-known, facts may work better than less well-known, but more aligned facts.
- Push - minimize or eliminate commitment, risk and cost, low price, easy refunds, etc
They should all be in the document, hopefully some of each in the headline (the more the merrier).
UrgentDue to either a) Shrinking availability b) Limited window of applicability c) Immediate customer need d) Fear of missing out (everyone else is getting rich using this method, but you're barely scraping by) Note that some signals of urgency, such as the words Final Notice in big red capitalized letters are so overused that they may have lost much of their power.
Uniquethe key here is perceived exclusivity. The more you, or your offer, or the way your offer works, or the way your offer looks like something that the reader is already familiar with, the less interesting you become. ex Boring: I invented a strong door lock Interesting: I invented something to keep a dozen army rangers out of your house for a full hour. The more difficult to replicate (time, resources, effort, expertise) to create the product, the better. You need to differentiate your offering from alternatives. Ideally you should position yourself as a monopoly. The vendor must be positioned as the only person who can a) solve the problem b) solve the problem in this ultra-special way. You need to demonstrate that your offering is somehow different (and hopefully better) than all the similar stuff that is available elsewhere. The space pen isn't like normal pens as it can write underwater while you're upside-down or This was designed from the ground up by physicists at MIT This process is called decommoditization. Unique terminology - Create a term (just one) that you invent and can stress over and over again, as if it were some magical silver bullet. Boring: "Read my book on improving math scores" Interesting - "Use the Einstein Math System". Remember, if the offering is unique (and it should be), then the language and descriptions used in the document should also be uniquely referring to that particular item. A competing product may have some characteristics in common, but a sufficiently differentiated good will be the only item that applies to all (or most) of them. Because it's perceived, as long as the buyer think it's a unique feature/benefit, it's good enough. Our foods are carbon based (all foods are carbon based, but most people don't know this)
UsefulWill there be real, definable results that are desirable by the reader? Note: the reader may have a different standard for what is useful than the writer does. A professional baseball player may find it very useful to improve his on base percentage by 4%. A professional software engineer probably won't.
Ultra-specific$4,372 vs around $4,000 or I will help improve your calligraphy to the point you can sell your services vs I will make your handwriting look pretty. Sometimes providing more (but incomplete) information may make an item appear less specific. Would you rather hear a testimonial from someone named Tony (first name implying a personal connection) or Tony P. (last initial implying anonymity)? The latter provides more information but doesn't seem like it.
Give your offering an attention-grabbing name
Don't be clinically descriptive on what you offer. Make it sound exciting, unusual, and interesting.
How much to charge?
How much to charge depends on the market. Higher pay usually means that products being sold are more expensive and are directed at more people.
Accomplished writers will normally ask for a fixed-fee as well as a percentage of revenue brought in by the sales copy. The percent of revenue is where the real money is.
The best paying fields are likely in one of the following fields:
Other possibilities include
- Dating / relationships
Idioms and language
Language should be easy to follow:
- Short paragraphs
- Easy to follow language
- Relatively simple words
- Relatively simple sentence structure
If you write something complicated, readers will spend their time and effort understanding your writing rather than building excitement.
Take a look at adventure books (The Hardy Boys) and you'll see the same patterns. It's about getting people to go from page 1 to page 10 as quickly as possible. The slower they read, the more likely they are to question what is being said and to think of objections.
You may think that using words that would appear on the SAT or GRE may make you look smart - and they might. The purpose of direct response, however, is not to make you look smart. The purpose is to sell product.
Tell the reader that what you say is insightful and moving:
- Take this to heart...
- You need to listen to this...
- The thing that changed my life is...
- I felt like an idiot when I learned that...
- Grab your pen and write this down...
- My life changed as soon as I...
- Never forget that...
You can sometimes use weasel words to get out of anything that looks like a promise of results:
- Now I can't promise that you'll earn 250% on every trade (this has two effects: 1 - removes any guarantee 2 - anchors promise high maybe you won't make 250%, but I never said you wouldn't make 200%)
- While things don't always repeat
- ... as long as you do it correctly
- To me, X is true/clear/obvious / in my opinion Bad: That brand of car is nothing but a death trap (lawsuit time) - Good: To me, that car is nothing but a death trap
- They can't X, they won't X - explain the present, link it to future outcomes.
- Do X, or Y - whether false dichotomy or not, explain something in terms of an act someone must do.
- The real reason why X is Y
- Up to $x - this one is great because up to includes everything below (even negative dollars ie losses) but still anchors the view high.
- It takes all of 20 seconds
- You could imagine how X, but I actually did X
- Undervalued, Underappreciated, Underinvestigated [same sound for multiple adjectives]
- This is the only X that Y (argues for uniqueness)
- Are you ready to... Make it look like the buyer just needs to change his mindset to reach his goal
Metaphors and similes
Analogies are great, but they should be obvious. If you need to add adjectives to make the metaphors clear, you should likely rethink the metaphor. GOOD: Fast as a cheetah BAD fast as a fast lion
Images, diagrams, charts
- Often can lend credibility (technical diagrams)
- Can make an item appear more real (pictures of physical goods)
- Can build an associate with other users (pictures of happy users)
- Can build empathy with vendor (pictures of vendor to build a personal connection)
- Can show movement, growth, change
No matter what, the WIIFM (what's in it for me?) question should be tackled very early on in the letter. A letter that promises to help the reader get a better job can potentially keep the reader's interest for a dozen pages. A letter that talks about my thoughts on my favorite cousin probably won't garner much interest or attention for readers.Ideas:
- Start with a question
- Use a strong testimonial
- Talk about something innocuous, then explain how it's miraculous
- Offer them something of value (often a free report)
- Pledge a very strong guarantee (I'll pay you $1 million, if you don't like these socks)
- Tell an empathetic story General Washington's men lost toes during the winter at Valley Forge because they didn't have shoes. Support our troops by...
- Make a shocking OR infuriating statement that requires proof - Bob retired after only 3 years of work and you can too
- Make them feel indebted - hey buddy you didn't write back last time I contacted you. Don't you feel guilty about that?
- Make a ridiculous offer (usually only good for a tripwire offer that is priced low, just to get someone to subscribe and pay higher prices later)
- An introduction to you - This is dangerous, unless your introduction quickly builds your credibility Hi, I turned my one plumbing business into a media empire. Interested?
- Make a humorous denial Cologne maker promises that customer wasn't kidnapped by a 20 sonority members
- Ask "why" and leave out details that would help answer why - Why are America's top diet experts adding this one item to their meals?
It's a big club and you ain't in it
George Carlin had a bit about the rich and powerful - it's a big club and you ain't in it
If you can propose how to get in it, you'll get instant attention. Whether it's breaking the glass ceiling or getting access to the very same data that they use, your pitch will have added weight.
It's like Animal Farm - We all want to become the people we hate / are jealous of.
Just two guys talking
In conversations, there's a back and forth. With direct response, you need to perform both parts. Make the person feel involved and make it clear that you understand him. Consider rhetorical devices to simulate the give and take.
Focus on relevancy to the reader. Things should be described in the way that the reader thinks.
The reader should feel as though he's the only recipient because a) it's tailored to him b) it feels personal. If you use language like "you all" you're going to break the illusion of "two guys talking" - you want it to look like you're engaged in a one-on-one conversation.
Reader always in the driver seat
The reader has a problem, yes. He may not be able to cure it on his own, the key, however, is to ensure that in terms of the relationship between the reader and the vendor, the reader must feel like he is in control.
- It's his choice to take action
- It's his choice to cancel
Anything that makes him feel subservient will be a dissuasion to taking action.
The writer should be a guy the other guy wants to talk to
If you want to talk about yourself, make sure you describe yourself first! Explain why you're someone who has an opinion that matters to the reader.
- Shared values
- Shared experiences
If you're not sure, find things written by and for the type of person and see what makes sense. Often you can mirror their own language back to them.
Don't just be like the other person. Be like how the other person sees himself, or slightly better than that (but still relatable - have him look up slightly to you, but not too much).
Many copywriters will attempt to use their copy to make themselves look great, intelligent, etc. Depending upon the nature of the ad, this may turn off the reader. Being clever with one's writing is different than being clever with one's product.
At no point should the writer talk about how he's had good luck as a primary character driver - excep luck as it relates to having located, discovered, or invented the item being pushed for sale. When luck like that can be gained at will, it's no longer luck, it's a credibility boost. Bad luck is fine though, as the reader may see himself as oppressed by the man.
The writer can (and should) however talk about how he spent a lot of hard work coming up with the solution, how he struggled - so the reader won't have to. Look at that! The guy is a friendly neighbor! Can you show the hero's journey for the writer? Let the reader follow along the struggle, but continuous progress
The demonstrated profile of the author doesn't have to match the actual writer. Play up different aspects, or alter characteristics - obviously some items like educational credentials are a no-no but there is a lot of room to play.
The profile of the author isn't just what you say but how you say it. If you're representing yourself as a blue collar guy, don't start mentioning your pickiness when it comes to Swiss wines. Maybe start talking about how you have trouble keeping your car running.
Use examples that the other person would understand. You might point to Bill Gates as an example of a person who became rich for one group, and Tupac to another group. It doesn't matter which is the better example on an arbitrary scale. Which will your reader understand, and which will build your credibility as a person that the reader will accept? Slip in these examples to let the reader know you (or the person you are attempting to portray). The more detail you can provide about yourself, the more hooks a reader will see to latch on and build a relationship. Remember, most business is fundamentally a relationship, because business transactions are built upon trust. Of course, slipping in the wrong details could be fatal. What impresses one gruop may disgust another.Use language the other person would use. If you are going after blue collar people don't use the word disenfranchised. If you are going after preachers, don't use off-color slang.
People like to deal with people who are like them (or who they want to be). Create alignment between you and your recipient, toward a common goal, or against a common enemy (real or imagined) ie the man. Talk about how you wanted to do something but the man wouldn't let you. This will be a forerunner to the call to action later ie if he buys, you will be able to finally take the action to help the reader. Also point out similarities between you and reader (in terms of experiences, beliefs, goals, or preferences).
Also, try to separate those who would try to convince readers not to take part. This will necessarily increase alignment with the vendor. People who object to this offer are fearful/ignorant/stupid/etc so don't listen to them or be like them.
Don't forget to mention how much you enjoy selling this, how it brings happiness to you every time you sign someone up, because you know you're helping your fellow man.
Break the fourth wall, tell reader not just to take your word for it, not just to skim it, not to take something said for granted.
- We're both air force veterans
- We're both catholic
- We're both trying to fix up an old corvette
- We both prefer to shop at small businesses
Demonstrate that you (the author) has done the same thing, had the same doubts and BAM! It worked! Wow! This works doubly well if you've already established that you're an expert yourself (so you're in a good position to judge effectiveness/characteristics)
Demonstrate clear alignment of incentives - we only make money if you make money, so we go out of our way to make you rich!
The use of secrets - everyone loves a secret, there's a reason why secrets are used so often in confidence tricks (con jobs). Telling people about secrets that "they" don't want you to know is often a good way to increase reader interest. The more evidence you can point to about suppression, or attempts to be silenced, the more valuable the information will appear. Given that many types of fraud is legitimately suppressed by the government, you may be able to pull off some interesting messaging with regard to government suppression of offers.
Sometimes the secret isn't so much the cause, but evidence of the cause. Ie did you know that the following famous people are taking action now? Shouldn't you?
Explain why it's secret:
- Big companies would go broke
- A political party would fall apart
- Tax receipts would fall
Note that there must be some reason why it's secret, otherwise, why wouldn't it spread in the age of the internet?
Make the offering transcend its normal category. It's not just a method to lose weight, but a method to fundamentally transform your life.
Consider using a post script (PS) after your signature to sweeten the deal. Although it can come at the end of the message, it can also come (without the PS) after the price is presented - oh, and we didn't even mention this benefit too
Use some jargon that your target uses, but most people don't to prove you're like them. For instance, when selling to technologists, reference particular video cards. If you don't have very detailed knowledge of a field, you're going to want to get someone to check the vocabulary. For instance, if you talk about bubble sort rather than quick sort or even merge sort in a message to professional programmers, they'll immediately know you're not one of them. In one of the Die Hard movies, the main character knew someone wasn't American because he said dogs and cats rather than cats and dogs - incongruences in your message destroy trust faster than you can build it. These tells are easy to spot by people with expertise, but can go completely unnoticed by someone not in the know. Don't just Google terms and place them in there. Know that they belong - or don't use them at all.
Make them feel indebted to you. Can you show you tried to help them or did help them? Can you include some information that would improve their lives already?
Make them feel like they're joining a select group of individuals by taking action. Can you make them feel like they will join an exclusive group? You're not just selling an item, you're selling a transformation or recognition of their characteristics. This is like what nightclubs do, keeping out the riff-raff in order to attract the cool people. Explain which groups (name names) have access to this secret, and how you can join them. Do they look down on you? Well, too bad because now you can do what they do. This has two benefits 1) Getting even 2) Social proof 3) Ability to look down on others in the future (the third point is likely best only implied, not stated)
Sometimes offering to let the reader see propriety information, processes, or techniques will make them feel special.
Consider giving an exclusive discount code or coupon that cannot be transferred. It will make them feel important and empowered. The more they feel like others can't partake in this offer, the more valuable it will appear to them. People love to think they're special.
Consider explaining how you were also not an instant believer in this, but it transformed your life.
Explain that the offer is not for everyone, then make it clear the people who it is not for are not like the people who are receiving the message. This offer isn't for everyone, old people stuck with children, or who are afraid of having a good time won't enjoy a weekend at Club Mardi Gras - our parties are too much fun for them to handle
Can you quote or excerpt from trusted sources to bolster your own credibility?
Get people feeling like they are close to an answer to their problems but stop short. They need to take the next step - they are so close to it now, because you led them there. They have to act and buy the offering to reach the solution.
Explain that a detailed analysis of the offering would either a) take too long b) bore the reader with analysis c) is too complex d) something the reader has to see, etc...
Why did it take so long to invent this offering? Was the writer involved? How? Was it hard? Expensive? What were the barriers that were overcome to make the offering difficult to reproduce and worthy of hard earned money?
A bonus of expressing how hard it was to create the offering (labor/resources/etc) is that it implies value and the inability/undesirability for someone to attempt to replicate it for himself. Oh you just built Microsoft? That doesn't sound hard said no one ever.
Note that novelty doesn't necessarily mean new. Something that was lost for many years can be novel if rediscovered. For instance, the Roman plant Silphium would be incredibly novel if rediscovered, but it wouldn't be new.
Maybe something changed in the world that either a) necessitated or b) allowed for the creation of your offering. Value investing used to make a lot of sense, but now we're part of the new economy.
The more extreme the claim and cost of action, the more objections must be tackled. Selling a $1 ebook? The copy should be short. Selling a $5,000 course to individuals? You'll probably need tens of pages.
Ask questions that are likely to be objections in the reader's mind. Then answer them. Sometimes you can ask a variation of a question that looks similar but is easier to defend. Instead of asking "is this ethical?" ask "is it legal?" etc
Wave away concerns? Once you have a reader following you, you can lead them astray rather easily. If a price is relatively high, but the reader has agreed with you on many points already, you can hand wave it away. Sure, some people may argue paying $2,500 is too much to pay for a water bottle, but clearly you know better. The more they've agreed with you so far, and the more you've made them think that they are thinking, the more likely they are to agree with you, and make jumps in reasoning that they otherwise might have scoffed at.
Also, don't be afraid to raise an objection and then belittle the type of people who made it. Some people may wonder where your customers will come from. We have a detailed guide, but really you shouldn't live your life in fear or believe in scarcity - that's where business failures come from.
If an objection is really hard to overcome, point out that everyone else in history has failed for this reason, but you have come up with a new approach.
Objections can also be split down the middle. I've come up with a way to earn $10 million per hour - but even if you don't believe me, imagine how good if you only made half of that!
You should make a list of all of the likely and impactful objections that a buyer will have before you starting writing. You can probably make buyers forget about one or two with some fancy writing, dazzling them with your abilities, but if you can bring it up so that the reader sees the objection, thinks "yes, that is a reasonable objection" and then refute it, you will be better off.
Sometimes, before you argue an objection, you can belittle it. Call an objection shocking or bizarre before refuting it to reduce the weight given to the argument in the first place (this works best if you've already developed a connection with the reader).
A three-step method for outlining one's copy:
Change the expected flow of discussion to force the user to pay more attention even if he has no conscious desire to do so.
How to do this:
- Say something that is not easily believed (but hopefully relevant and interesting to the reader) - Good: there's a simple way to beat the stock market. If you can prove your point later in the document, you'll garner interest (assuming the claim is relevant and interesting - saying BAD: my fuse box is mad out of glass might be unexpected, but likely has no relevance or value to the reader. The reader will almost continue reading out of spite if they think you're lying. They want to prove you wrong.
- Think about the normal script of a sales call - introduction, explanation of product, pitch. That's what the customer expects, so he doesn't pay it much mind. What if you did something unexpected? Wore a gorilla suit, offered him some food, or talked about how you read his book? These unexpected items are likely to increase levels of customer attention.
The feeling that others of the group have done something that the reader hasn't can be a huge motivator.
Both in desire to belong and due to not let the group down (guilt/shame).
75% of people who care about the environment have switched to our eco-friendly soap. Why haven't you?
- Describe a problem - people die from heart attacks
- Talk about a change that occurred - we discovered a chemical in fish oil / A long-term government study on health safety was just released
- Tool - we sell fish oil, we've crunched the numbers and have a system to keep you safe
- Pitch - buy our stuff!
Process for copywriting
- Gather information about the reader, the offering, and the call to action
- Write the letter
- Receive approval from legal / managers
- Send the letter
- Analyze for success / failure
There are essentially two types of claims
- Falsifiable - I spent ten years in the air force
- Non-falsifiable - I am a really great writer
You want to be very careful with any claim that is falsifiable (can be proven false). If it can be proven false, and you are using it to sell something, you might be committing fraud. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems like you probably don't want to do this.
Non-falsifiable claims, however, are another matter. Puffery is less of a gray area. There's a reason why so many lawyers sell themselves as America's best lawyer.
Identifying yourself as a #1 in your category, or an expert is a quick way to build credibility.
Rather than using actual numbers, use vague language like "a fraction of this number" or "your fair share" or "what you deserve"
Puffery is often used in the eyebrow section.
Ask a long list of questions, but don't answer them. You just want the reader to either say "yes" when the questions are about suitability of his buying or to build curiosity
- Do you wonder why the sky is blue?
- Or how radios work?
- Or why trees lose their leaves?
Then you would love our science magazine, we dive deep into the most interesting topics...
The process by which you can add relevance and concreteness to a statistic or fact I saved 30% on my car price, if it were a brand new Ferrari my techniques would have been worth $150,000!
Reframing can be useful even if you reframe out of context - the big numbers will stay in the head of buyers more than the relevance - maybe. Treat this on case by case basis.
Switch units of measure (from dollars to percent or vice versa)
I lost 140 pounds vs I fit in that tiny dress I had my eye on
Unless you are part of the offering (either because you're selling access to you or your abilities), minimize the use of the words "I"
We, on the other hand, can be very powerful because it does two things at the same time:
- It builds a connection between reader and writer
- It builds a barrier between the reader and people that do not fall into the group that the writer has defined. Whereas we moderates know the truth, those on the far-left and far-right are not nearly so sensible
As a general rule of thumb, everything you write should be focused on the reader, not on you unless you're selling yourself as a guru or building a cult of personality.
If what you are selling is ordinary, give it a new name that makes it seem extraordinary (and unique).
I'm not selling stamps, I'm selling message passports.
Research is critical, because without knowing what readers think, it is difficult to connect with them. It's also hard to talk convince readers that your offering is great if you don't know anything about.
Ideas for where to look:
- Read reviews on storefronts (Amazon/Walmart/etc)
- Look for forum posts (Reddit or specialized ones)
- Search for category name and phrases like sucks to find common arguments
- Sign up for copy from similar brands
Risk / Safety
A few methods:
- Testimonials - see section
- Proof that it's been successful over a reasonably long period of time
- Guarantees / warranties - you can even try to "reverse the risk" by pointing out how you're the one taking the risk by paying for shipping, letting the reader have the product prior to payment, etc
- Evidence / a promise that the promise is relatively easy on the part of the reader and difficult / impossible to screw up. If this sounds complicated, don't worry - anyone can do it!
- Explain the cost of lying to you - loss of reputation, sued to smithereens, loss of future business opportunities, etc - If you can demonstrate a rationale and reason as to why you MUST be telling the truth, you add in safety.
It is vital to know that you should not attempt to sell a tool that can be used to reach the goal, it should be the goal itself. The offering should be "success on rails" not a do-it-yourself success kit.
If you've built a connection with the reader, you should discuss personal experiences with the offer. Saying I used it and X happened is more credible than My friend used it and X happened. It's kind of odd because the reader doesn't know the writer or his friend, but the version is a) Direct experience from b) Someone the reader built a bond with.
Sell, don't educate
Copywriting is ultimately about selling, not education. Depending upon the audience, education is akin to lecturing to a bunch of bored students. Bored people don't buy. Excited people buy. Yes you may need to do a bit of explaining, but it should be in the context of building excitement not in building a knowledge base. Good education: There are X people in the world who speak French, so you need my course to communicate with them Bad: The University of Rhode Island started out as an agricultural school.
The reader should always be excited about the opportunity. If he is bored reading your stuff, you've lost.
Keep asking yourself, am I building excitement to buy / building support for buying emotion or am I just spouting facts and knowledge.
There's a reason why very little commerce occurs in classrooms.
There's a sales funnel, and the more you can show people like them toward the later end of the funnel, the more pressure to go along. Contrarily, the more unlike him the people you reference the less interested they will be in following along. Good: 500,000 decent people have donated Bad: 400,000 homicidal maniacs have donatedFrom best to worst:
- X people like you have succeeded with our offering
- X people like you have purchased
- X people like you are looking for a solution
- X people like you have this problem
- X people like you will be affected by this problem
StatesAnswer the following:
- What is the reader's current state?
- What action do you want them to take?
- What will be the reader's future state?
Make sure to make the reader feel as though the initial state is not the buyer's fault.
You can attack the future state only if it is not a personal attack. It's usually a better approach to focus on the potential for improvement. GOOD: You're struggling to pay rent BAD: Your work ethic sucks.
In most cases, the details of action should be teased, but not explained. It's much more interesting to read using the couch to 5k method, you'll become a great runner than run every other day and keep increasing your distance. The more you tease, the more interested the reader will become. Get the reader to keep asking How can this possibly work? I need to know the secret!!
The more complicated your explanation of the action and the mechanics of the action, the more boring the pitch. It's great to say that a lot of work went on on the vendor's side to enable the action, but think about it - one the action has been accepted as a rational concept by the buyer, he can move on to think about the future state again. The more he has to try to figure out the action, the more of a barrier you've created between the reader and his goal (the end state).
You want the action to take to be very small (the magic bullet / Staples easy button), unless the action is closely tied to the end state. Good Just sign up for this tool, and we'll do the rest Bad: Sign up for the tool, put in the 1500 hours of training, and we'll do the rest Good: Join the marines and we'll put you through training that would kill most other people but will turn you into an elite combat officer (in this case, the transformational nature of the action is stressed - it's a form of purification/point of pride and purification is part of the goal - action and future state are effectively combined). Use of works like automatically or instantly stress this point. Keep stressing that the one thing holding the reader back from his goal is the one thing - then, later, show how easy it is to obtain it. The one thing holding me back was my eyesight. I wanted to be a pilot so badly, but it kept me from my dream. Oh, you know you can stop by at my shop and get laser surgery for just $10.. It's often very powerful if you can show that someone below your reader (in terms of status, intelligence, or something else) can and has achieved success with the offering
Rather than focusing on the action in your pitch, you're probably better off focusing on the initiation to the purchase purchase. BAD: spend the 10 weeks on my running plan to get into shape Good: It all starts with a call to place your order for my plan.
Ideally the future state won't just be an outcome of a problem removed, but also a transformation of the reader. If you buy this weed wacker, you won't just have no weeds, you'll be more relaxed and have time to spend with your kids and be a good parent
The more desirable and the more real you can make the future state in the buyer's mind, the more (later on) you can really hit them when you make your pitch. You can buy my offering and get this future state, or you can give it all up - even though it's so close, because my offering is the only way to get you to that end state. Being a police officer is amazing, but if you don't go to my police academy, then you're never going to get the job
The less time between current state and future state, the more valuable and desirable the offering (assuming it's believable). Good: Learn to speak French in three months Bad: Learn to speak French in ten years
The more certainty of achieving future state, the more valuable and desirable the offering. Good You will get a better job Bad: You will become a billionaire fashion model
You want the different between present and future state to be large. You may need to magnify the difference. The larger the difference (for a given cost), the more valuable the offering.
You can link a valuable symbol of the end state to an insignificant but commonly occurring thing - like every time I open the mailbox, I see another check from a customer. Every time it rains, I know that I don't have to worry about flooding, every time I eat I can be happy knowing indigestion won't show up.
You may want to use humor to point out extra work at the end state This product made my business so profitable, I had to spend six months looking for a bigger office
The future state will likely be suited to comparisons with earlier state. Imagine going from being paid minimum wage to earning $500,000/yr!. You should be able to answer How much did the result move the needle?
The future state is likely not action-oriented. It's more likely that a person wants to retire rather than save money. Similarly, a baseball player would likely prefer to hit more home runs rather than swing his bat harder. While he may get more home runs because he's swinging harder, no one ever won an award because of his swing strength (but plenty have won awards for the number of home runs).
The future state should explain how the revolutionary change provided by your offer will provide the buyer with super powers - Once you've taking my running course, you'll win every race - see how that's not focused on continued effort? It's a one-time switch that fundamentally changed the buyer with no additional upkeep required
In order to increase the apparent value of the offering:
- Understate the value of the current state
- Understate the cost (difficulty, expense, etc) of the action
- Overstate the value of the future state
How much imagery are you building of the two states? How real does it feel? Imagine what it would be like to not have to set your alarm, wake up when you want to be sleeping, and drive an hour to that job you hate, just to do it again and again every year until you retire?. Imagery can be built by you, but there's an obvious problem. Even if you have perfect psychographic data, you'll likely have less relevance than the recipient's own brain. Ask them to build the imagery for you. Don't tell them that an extra 4 hours of week of free time will mean they could go to the beach more. Maybe they hate the beach, or burn in the sun, or live in Nebraska. Ask them a question instead. What would you do with four extra hours a week? Sure you can prompt them maybe you'd go to the beach, or watch a movie, or spend more time with your family.
As you see long copy, keep a copy of the ones you like. People call collections swipe files. You can borrow ideas from them. If you are just starting out, run some searches on the internet for other people's swipe files. The best ones will have comments about them in the same document.Swipe files by others:
Websites with lots of copy:
- American Writers Artists inc. (John Forde) - Hall of Fame: Great Selling Ideas from 50 Super-Successful Direct Mail Letters and Direct Response Ads
There is an implication that testimonials represent the average experience, but they never do - not really. A good testimonial, even using initials instead of names so that no one knows who they are can still be worth quite a bit.
They don't have to just go at the end, in the pitch. Sometimes they can be used to counter objections and in other sections.
Once you have a direct sales response letter, how do you know if it's any good? Well, you can try it. That part is easy. But how do you know if it can be improved?
Companies do something called A/B Testing. Basically you take two sales letters and run each to a different group of recipients. The winner is referred to as the control and becomes the version that all future versions will be compared to, until it too is beaten.
Over time, the changes that are tested will likely become smaller and smaller as the control becomes better and better. The better the control, the fewer changes are likely to be discovered and the less of an impact they will have.
However, relying on only small changes can be dangerous, as sometimes, either due to shifts in the market or an oversight, trying something completely new will turn out to have an enormous impact. Every once in a while, be willing to try a big redesign on a small group just to make sure you're not getting complacent when you should be improving in a big way.
No matter what, there should be a way to trace an order to the exact version of the ad to which he responded.
Copy that beats the control isn't necessarily better. The control may date to a time when the market or customers was fundamentally different. Alternatively, readers may have just gotten used to the arguments inside.