How Business Owners and Marketing Execs Can Make Good Sales Copy Great …

 … And How “B” Copywriters Can Become “A” Writers In Four Easy Lessons

Just before I turned in for the evening, I got an email from Adam, asking “What can a ‘B’ writer do to become an ‘A’ writer?”

Immediately, my brain went into overdrive. I tossed, turned, counted sheep, tried to clear my mind — but the question kept pestering me. Finally, I surrendered, uttered an expletive, climbed out of bed, and trudged down to my office.

The answer, of course, is obvious: Produce bigger winners, more often.

But how, precisely, do you do that?

Specifically, what do “A” writers do that those “B” writers don’t?

And if you’re a business owner or marketing exec, how can you know great copy when you see it? How can you get “B” writers to give you “A” copy?

My answer to Adam — and to you: Just make sure each project accomplishes four crucial things.

Connect with the Reader’s Dominant Resident Emotion Regarding the Subject at Hand

Think about it for a moment, and I’m sure you’ll agree: The vast majority of the money that flows through consumers’ hands each year is spent to meet their emotional needs — NOT merely to satisfy their intellectually-justifiable needs for physical survival.

We can physically survive if we have air, water, a few calories of very basic raw food, and just enough shelter to keep us from freezing to death in winter. Air and water can be had for free. The food and shelter sufficient for survival can be had for pennies a day.

Pretty much every other dollar, pound, or euro that flows through our hands is spent to address emotional needs in our lives: The craving for comfort and security … personal status and ego gratification … love and sex … recreation and adventure … and much more. The sales of products and services that address these cravings are what really drive our national economies.

So if 99% of our purchase decisions are REALLY made to address an emotional need — and not intellectually justifiable as essential for survival — doesn't it make sense to appeal directly to those emotions when attempting to sell a product?

“B” writers tend to focus on selling benefits and on logical, “reason-why” copy only. By doing so, they're attempting to justify the purchase and price of the product solely by appealing to the intellect. That's like coming to the gunfight but leaving 99% of your bullets in the glove compartment!

Instead of simply reciting benefits and reasons why the prospect should buy, “A” writers recognize, validate, and directly address powerful emotions the prospect already has about those benefits (or the lack of them).

This “dominant emotion” approach works especially well in mature or skeptical markets — when the writer recognizes and validates negative feelings the prospect has about a particular type of product — and then demonstrates why this product is different, and therefore better.

The prospect’s dominant emotions should be addressed throughout the copy at every level — from selection of the overriding theme and the crafting of the headline to the selection of sidebar themes, subheads, and every word selection you make.

Don’t Sell; SEDUCE!

Two guys walk into a bar. The first is a bookish, meticulous, accountant type who just read a book on “How to Pick Up Women.” Spying a winsome lass, he approaches her and states his Unique Selling Proposition: “I’m going to rock your world like nobody else ever has.”

That done, he begins ticking off all the benefits she’ll derive from having sex with him: She will be thrilled and satisfied. He shows her testimonials from 23 other women he’s been intimate with, each one saying they were satisfied. And he tells the young lady that if she’ll go back to his apartment right away, he’ll do the same for her.

The second guy, spotting another lady, takes a radically different approach. He captures her attention with a friendly, admiring glance. He offers her a drink. He validates her with a compliment. He puts her at ease with an amusing, intriguing, or self-effacing remark.

He gets her nodding her head, speaking to her of things she is passionate about and that he suspects she’ll agree with. He asks her to dance. He takes his time … and when the time is right, he drops a flirtatious comment or two.

Finally, he invites her to his apartment to see his art collection — or on some other pretense.

Which of our two heroes do YOU think has the best chance of closing the sale?

If you said, “The guy who had a USP and benefit-oriented sales copy,” you, my friend, have read too many books about copywriting.

Like Michael Masterson explains in Architecture of Persuasion, top-notch writers understand that salesmanship is the art of seduction — and that five careful steps must be taken before the affair with the prospect is consummated and marketing bliss is achieved:

  1. You must convince your prospects to give you their attention – with a headline that speaks to their prospects’ desires, frustrations, or fears.
  2. You must convince them to read your message – by offering to bring value to their lives if they’ll just lend you an ear for a few minutes.
  3. You must convince them your product or service will meet their needs, and therefore, fulfill their desires or assuage their frustrations or fears.
  4. You must convince your prospects your price is fair (or better yet, a bargain) – by making a comparison that demonstrates the value you’re offering in a compelling way.
  5. You must convince your prospects to take action now to purchase the product – by showing them how easy it is to order.

Do these five things consistently — and compellingly — in each sales promotion and your response will soar.

Add Credibility

Today and every day, each prospect you’re writing to will be bombarded with some 650 advertising messages. That’s nearly 240,000 per year, every year of his or her life — and the volume is growing by the day.

Those messages have made your prospect a seasoned consumer who has bought thousands of products and services over a lifetime — many of which lived up to their advertising, and many of which did not.

As a result, your prospect is a skeptic. The quick way to lose him is to promise something you both know you can’t deliver. The slow way to lose him is to fail to document that your product really does deliver.

“B” writers assume that prospects will believe everything they read.

“A” writers infuse their copy with credibility devices like these:

  • The ersatz author’s qualifications as an expert on the subject at hand, including his education, books he’s authored, major media outlets that have featured him, his career experience, etc.
  • Details, facts, figures that prove every point in the copy beyond the shadow of a doubt.
  • Customer testimonials that prove your product has delivered for others.
  • Expert and/or celebrity testimonials that validate you, your product, or your process.
  • Mentions incredible media that validate you, your product, or your process.
  • A guarantee written in a way that demonstrates your absolute confidence that your product or service will deliver the specific benefits you’ve promised.

Sharpen Your Clarity of Vision

This is a big one for me. Too often, “B” writers fall in love with their subjects. Instead of staying focused — establishing a powerful overriding theme and then bringing each piece of copy back to it — they get sidetracked and wind up going off in all directions at once.

The result is a long-winded jumble of copy that feels diffused and only confuses the reader.

Last week, a major publisher asked me to critique one of these hodgepodges for him.

My crit:

“The main theme is strong and should resonate well with your prospects. The prose itself is well-written. The writer does an excellent job of demonstrating the benefits the product will bring to the reader’s life. And he connects well with actionable emotions the prospect has about the subject at hand.

“But the writer has fallen in love with his subject — and the sound of his own voice. So, all the good stuff in here is hidden away under reams of extraneous, unnecessary material.

“Instead of bringing all the copy back to his major theme, the writer allowed himself to be drawn off into scores of unrelated things. As a result, you got 28 friggin’ tabloid-sized pages of — what is that — 11 point type?! I started reading this without my spectacles and got a headache for my trouble.

“In a word, this piece is overwritten. This is Michelangelo’s David traveling incognito — disguised as a block of granite. There’s a masterpiece in here somewhere, but it’s buried under tons of rubble.

“I’d cut six to eight pages of extraneous text that fails to connect with the main theme … bump the size of the running text up to 12 or 13 point Times Roman … and bring it in at 20 to 24 pages — MAX.”

Hope this information helps you … as well as Adam. There’s more you can do to become an “A” copywriter, and AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Job Fair is an excellent place to start.

I’ll be there this year … teaching you how to become your client’s biggest asset, as well as create offers that close the sale. If you haven’t reserved your spot yet, do it now.

[Ed. Note: Master copywriter Clayton Makepeace publishes the highly acclaimed e-zine The Total Package to help business owners and copywriters accelerate their sales and profits. Claim your four free moneymaking e-books – bursting with tips, tricks, and tactics that’ll skyrocket your response – at]

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: August 11, 2009

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