Why You Shouldn't Sell With Your Writing …

I was furious. And I knew I had to do something about what was angering me.

When I first picked up the small, padded envelope from a well-known online marketer, I hadn’t noticed the advertisement on the back. But just as I was about to tear it open to remove the $5 timer, I saw the big block letters that covered the entire back of the envelope.

I won’t tell you what super violent video game was being advertised. What angered me and my wife Linda when we saw it wasn’t the video game. It’s one of the hot topics among the boys in my community. I think the premise of the game is disgusting, but I’m not one to limit commerce.

What angered me was that my money was being used to advertise something I’m morally opposed to. Without my permission.

So I did what any writer should do. I wrote! I wrote the CEO and vice-president of the company. I wrote a number of newspapers. And I wrote online news sources like Huffington Post.

That’s what we writers — you and I — do when we’re riled. Or passionate. Or concerned. We write and write persuasively.

So why am I telling you this? Because everything you’re learning as a copywriter is not just about selling. You’re really learning to write persuasive copy for all situations.

Certainly, being able to sell is at the heart of your career. That’s where the money is. But regardless of what your niche is, you’re never really selling a product. You’re selling ideas.

This is probably in the forefront of my mind because Mark Ford (you might know him better as Michael Masterson) and I are collaborating on a book about persuasive writing. The Big Idea of the book is this:

Good persuasive writing presents compelling ideas clearly and with specificity.

That’s it! Of course, putting these three parts into action takes thought, planning, and careful execution to assure you’ve persuaded your reader to take action, to agree with your ideas, or to buy your product.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about today and over the next two weeks.

No compelling idea, there’s no persuasion …

You’ll hear a lot about the Big Idea from AWAI. We talked about it several weeks ago, using Mike Palmer’s True Wealth and Kent Komae’s Mountain Home Nutritionals promos as examples.

The Big Idea in copywriting is an example of the importance of starting any type of persuasive writing with a compelling idea.

Compelling ideas make your reader think, “That makes sense!” Or, “I never thought of that before but it’s true!” Or, “I can’t wait to tell someone!”

A few years back, Porter Stansberry wrote a promo that’s a prime example of a compelling idea. The main headline said …

There’s a New Railroad Across America

And it’s making some
people very rich …

The premise — the compelling idea — behind this promotion was that a new “railroad” of fiber optic cable was being laid alongside existing rails in the United States. Porter equated the investment opportunities this provided with those that had occurred when the first transcontinental railroad was built in the 1860s.

You can see how this idea could make the reader think “this makes sense,” or “I never thought of that,” or “I can’t wait to share this.” The idea was new, exciting, and immediately understandable.

It was compelling.

My written rant to the CEO was not as compelling as Porter’s. But I hope I caught his attention. My idea was that by advertising the violent video game so openly, the company risks losing a small but significant portion of their customers. And this would take place right at the peak holiday buying season.

Was I certain that this would happen? That people would boycott this retailer?

Well, it turns out that if you’re writing persuasive copy, that’s not a big issue. A compelling idea really has nothing to do with correctness. Mark points out that it doesn’t even have to be well reasoned or based in fact.

What it must do, though, is engage your reader so strongly that he feels he’s got to think or act the way you want him to.

How could this be true …

If you have any doubt about the truthfulness of this point, you don’t have to look any further than the political rhetoric of the past presidential campaign. (Both sides!)

During that campaign, a great many ideas caught the electorate’s attention. And few of them were correct, well reasoned, or even based in fact. But they did capture attention and induced people to act … that is, to talk about them. And talk spreads those ideas.

A reason compelling ideas don’t have to be correct is the foundation of all selling. Compelling ideas capture your reader on two levels: heart and mind, with the heart — your reader’s emotions — leading the way.

Look at Porter’s compelling idea. The first images that come to mind when you read his headline include power (railroad), inevitability (it happened before), and profit. When I first read it, the image of the “Monopoly® man” with his top hat and bag of money popped into my head.

After grabbing the emotions, Porter then used the history underlying his compelling idea as intellectual proof. Porter went on to prove the connection in his copy, but he never strayed far from the emotional connection.

Step back from your passion …

So, what does this mean to you in writing persuasive copy?

First off, don’t start with facts. Start with emotional hooks. In my letter, I started with the idea that I might never shop there again and that I’d work to convince other people not to do so as well. Then I gave the details of the problem.

There were two reasons to do this. People really do make their decisions from their emotions. Only later, when you’ve convinced them, do you appeal to their intellectual side.

The second reason to start with the emotions is a bit of subterfuge. If you start persuasive writing with facts, appealing to the rational part of your reader’s mind, you telegraph what you’re trying to get the reader to believe and to act upon right at the beginning. This gives him ample opportunity to martial arguments against your point of view.

By starting with the emotions, you’re keeping him off-kilter until you can hook him emotionally. Done properly, you’ll have his emotional commitment to following you before you appeal to his rational mind. His rational mind follows along, using your details and proof to convince himself he’s made the right decision.

I know that starting with the emotions isn’t earth-shaking news to you as a copywriter. But in trying to start there, you have to be aware of someone who can scuttle your efforts. That person is you.

And that’s what we’ll talk about next week: How your passions and emotions can frustrate your attempts to hook your reader emotionally.

Until then, keep reading and, most important, keep writing.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: December 10, 2012

3 Responses to “Why You Shouldn't Sell With Your Writing...”

  1. Great article Mr.Newman. I enjoy reading your writings. I gain valuable copywriting insight every time I do.
    Thank you.

    Marcellus Greene

  2. Thank you for this post.

    I believe you meant to say "This gives him ample opportunity to marshal arguments against your point of view."

    An inspiring post. I look forward to the next one.


  3. This post further illustrates the lessons I'm just covering now in the Accelerated Program. I love there are so many layers to learning singular principles of copywriting. It helps!

    Guest (Andimac)

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