How to Keep Your Prospect in the
“What’s Next” Frame of Mind

When I review promos from journeymen copywriters, I find that many of the same problems keep cropping up. Using the example of the piece of copy I recently critiqued for the AWAI copywriting program, here are four important strategies to follow when writing and reviewing your own work.

  1. Be careful about making promotional copy too linear and academic. This is a big problem for many copywriters. What you don’t want to do when writing a sales letter is talk about a chain of events. (This happened, then this happened, and then this happened.)

    That makes it too easy for the prospect to anticipate what you’re going to say next. And in anticipating, he disconnects from your message.

    A recent spec letter I received from an AWAIer for the Accelerated Program is a good example. In it, the writer started talking about how I got into copywriting and how my life changed dramatically because it. All good and all true. But it went on far too long – two or three pages long.

    Why is this a problem? Two reasons: First, it’s all about me and not the reader. (Your reader is willing to hear your story, or in this case, my story – but only if it quickly leads to something about him). Second, it violates the “unwritten rule” that you never spend more than two, maybe three paragraphs on a single idea. (Indeed, your challenge as an “A-level” copywriter is to find succinct and compelling ways to say in three paragraphs what it would take an ordinary writer to say in a page or two … )

    Belaboring a single idea merely serves to slow down that section of the copy by making it longer and more tedious to read. And when that happens, it lulls the reader into complacency. The copy becomes predictable.

  2. Your challenge as a copywriter is to make the selling points you need to make quickly and succinctly. Switch gears every four of five paragraphs. Take the reader in a direction he or she could never predict. If you’re talking about a way to make $100,000 in the stock market – DON’T follow it up with how they can do it. That’s what they’re expecting. Instead, go in an “unexpected” direction. Say: “I’m going to tell you the two simple things you’ll need to do for this to happen. But first, let me tell you about a recent government regulation that made this opportunity possible – and why you only have three days to collect your cash …”

    The point is, you need to keep the reader in that “what’s next” frame of mind by making each selling point in as few words as possible, then moving to the next one. Avoid the categorical imperative at all costs. That’s how you keep your reader reading.

  3. Make sure your headline (and copy) relates to the prospect. Avoid getting too “me” oriented. What you want to do in the headline is bring the reader into the copy. Introduce something he can get excited about.

    For instance, recently I saw a headline from an AWAI member for the Accelerated Program: “How Writing Letters like this One is Like Having My Very Own Money Tree.” Not a bad headline. There’s some intrigue there. However, decades of testing proves results are much better when the reader is brought into the picture.

    So instead of making it about you (“My Very Own Money Tree) … make it about your reader: “Is It Possible to Have Your Very Own Money Tree? Yes … If You Can Write a Simple Letter Like This One.

    You know from the Accelerated Copywriting program by now that a good copywriter avoids clichés at all cost. But also, your job is to find new ways to say ordinary things. For instance, one of the things AWAI promises you if you’re master the principles of copywriting, “you’ll have all the work you could ever ask for.” In fact, we say that so often, there’s a real danger people will stop “hearing” it.

    So say it a different way. Say instead: “You’ll turn down so many writing assignments that we’ve been forced to create a special handbook: “15 Ways to Politely and Gracefully Turn Away Jobs – and Never Lose a Client” – yours free with the program.

    That not only gets the point across loud and clear – but gives you an opportunity to introduce an added bonus as well.

  4. One last important copywriting principle to follow: Concentrate on finding a tone or a “voice” for your writing. You want your prospect to feel that you’re writing to him personally – as a good friend … as someone who really cares about his success and well-being. You can’t do that by writing in a voice that doesn’t feel natural to you.

    Establishing voice comes with experience. But you can speed up the process by reading three or four promotions a day. Find one whose style agrees with you … resonates with you. Read it a few times … then write it out by hand … paying close attention to the tone and rhythm as you write. This is a trick I learned early on from Michael Masterson, and I credit it with helping me find a strong and consistent voice early on in my career.

So to sum up:

  • Don’t spend too much time on a single idea or selling point. You should be able to make any selling point in one to three paragraphs …
  • Don’t make your copy too linear. Rather than go to the next logical point – take your reader to a place he’s not expecting.
  • Make your copy about the reader. Do your best to avoid “me” copy.
  • Avoid clichés … and find new ways to say things that have been said many times before.
  • Find a voice and writing style that’s “you” – and try to imitate it.
The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: August 28, 2006

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