The Hidden Key to a Successful Direct-Marketing Package

There is no one "most important" element to concentrate on or "most important" secret to invoke to guarantee success for a direct-marketing package.

Michael Masterson uses the "Architecture of Romance" metaphor, where he compares a DM letter to a house in order to make this point. What part of a house is most important? All of them!

If you leave out any structural element of the house, the house won't stand properly … and neither will a DM package.

That said, one element of a DM package has power that few copywriters understand: the USP – Unique Sales Proposition.

Every successful promotion MUST have a USP. Of all the copywriting secrets, tips, techniques, and tricks you've learned, none is more important than identifying a compelling USP.

The USP is the one distinct, outstanding benefit of your product that sets it apart from the competition. It answers your prospect's question: "Why should I order your product instead of your competitor's?"

You can write the strongest DM letter possible, and in doing so absolutely convince your prospect that he needs what you're selling. But without a compelling USP, he won't necessarily buy YOUR product. He might buy one that's similar, one that's cheaper, or one that's conveniently available at the supermarket.

Finding the USP for a product may sound relatively easy. But finding a truly compelling USP requires digging deeper than other copywriters would.

Several years ago, AWAI Board Member John Forde created the following list of questions to help identify any product's USP.

And keep in mind that you're not limited to only one USP for a product. Think about checklists you've seen that compare their product with several named competitors … and how effective they've been in getting you to buy.

Here are John's questions:

  1. How is my product really different from the competition?

    • Is my product of better quality?
    • How so – stronger, longer lasting, more beautiful, etc.?
    • What are the features of my product?
    • Does it have more or better features, and what are they?
    • How does my product's performance compare to the competition?
    • How do we compete on price?
  2. How clearly expressed are the benefits?

    • Can I assign a number or statistic to my product's performance?
    • How much larger is the promise than the promises of competitors?
  3. Do we beat the competition on customer service and fulfillment?

    • How fast do our orders arrive?
    • Do we offer email delivery or online archives?
    • Do we tell customers where/how to buy other products we recommend?
    • Do we have a telephone hotline?
    • What kind of guarantee do we offer?
    • What bonus gifts come with my product?
    • Do the premiums satisfy specific needs addressed in the promotion?
  4. How can I show that my product is reliable?

    • How long has my company been around?
    • What's our track record?
    • What's the background of our product guru or "champion"?
    • What reputable 3rd parties use my product?
    • What's the process by which we create the product?
    • What testimonials do we have?

Where do you find answers to these questions?

Start with your client: the marketing director, the product developer, maybe even the company president or CEO. If it's an information product, talk to the person who writes or edits it.

[WARNING: If you are working on a spec assignment, do NOT bother the client with these questions.]

Next, go to the Internet. This is a good place to find out about your competition's products and what they identify as their USPs.

You should also study spec sheets, manuals, testimonials (if available), and any other written material for your product and those of your competition.

Coming up with your product's USPs does not take a great deal of work. And the time you put into it will pay off with significantly greater response, because you will have specifically told your prospect what makes your product better, different, unique.

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: August 27, 2007

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