Stop Selling Your Product! (or Maybe Not)

Never forget that, as a copywriter, you often don’t want to sell the product.

I know this sounds at odds with what you may be thinking. You’re in programs that teach the secrets of effective sales copy. And if you don’t sell the product, what in heavens name do you sell?

This question bedevils many copywriters – both newcomers and experienced. A question I received from one of my Circle of Success members after a peer review sums up the confusion …

In peer reviews, sometimes the participants suggest moving mention of the product farther up in the lead. And that suggestion gets good comments. Sometimes, the suggestion is to avoid mentioning the product early in the lead. And this gets good responses. I’m confused!

Before I answer this question, I want to give three quick definitions. Please understand that these definitions only skim the surface of the concepts behind the words.

Transparency: Mark Ford defines transparency as the strategy of making your product fade into the background in your copy. When you use transparency, you mention your product seldom and never in the headline and lead. Following this strategy makes your product transparent to your prospect, so its benefits shine through. Transparency sells the benefits of your product, not the product itself.

When you use transparency, you’re taking an indirect approach to your sale. You don’t come right out and tell your prospect words conveying the message: “I’m trying to sell you an investment newsletter.”

Instead, you’re telling him: “I understand your fears about today’s unstable, unforgiving investment market. I understand your fears about retirement, your children’s education, and maintaining your hard-earned lifestyle. And I’m going to tell you about some ways to make those fears go away.”

With a transparent approach, you’re selling solutions to whatever part of your prospect’s core complex you’re dealing with. Those solutions are never the product. The solution comes through the benefits the product brings.

Front-end promotion: A front-end promo targets a group of new potential customers. These people have never bought from your client. They may or may not know who your client is, and they probably don’t know about the product you’re trying to sell.

AWAI’s “Can You Write a Simple Letter?” promotion for the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting is the perfect example of a front-end piece.

Back-end promotion: A back-end promo targets prospects who already know your client and their products, because they’ve bought from your client in the past.

There’s some shady area here, thanks to the Internet. Many good marketers develop email lists of people who read editorial offerings from the company but who haven’t bought from them yet. Are these front-end or back-end prospects? I call them “side-door” prospects. They’re a combination of front-end and back-end prospects.

Don’t let sales resistance slam the door …

So, when do you mention the product early in your promotion? And when do you avoid mentioning much at all?

Rule of thumb: When marketing to a front-end or side-door prospect, be transparent. Avoid mentioning the product early in the promo. Once you do mention it, get away from it quickly and mention it as little as possible (until the offer/close).

Concentrate on selling the benefits of the product. Sell solutions to your prospect’s problems. But don’t directly sell the product.

Why? Sales resistance.

Most people really enjoy buying things – it’s an endorphin thing. But most people despise “being sold.” The minute you mention your product to a front-end prospect, he throws up walls. He will not be sold. In that case, you’ve made your job significantly more difficult.

But convince him you care about him and his problems, convince him you have a solution to those problems, and you’re golden. You do this by selling the benefits with as little mention of the product as you can. Transparency.

Harness your prospect’s good will …

However, if you’re selling to a back-end prospect, she already knows your client. She knows you’re probably trying to make a sale when she first begins reading your copy. If she’s been satisfied with what you’ve sold her in the front-end promo that attracted her, you’ve won her loyalty and pre-qualified willingness to buy.

So, with this type of prospect, you can be more direct. You can mention the product earlier in the promo.

Watch out here. Copywriting is an art, not a science. You’ll find times when an indirect, transparent approach is perfect for a back-end. More often than you might expect.

And there will be times when a direct approach to a front-end promo works best. For example, if your prospect knows your product well but has never used it. A good example is the American Express sales letter in your Hall of Fame book.

How do you know the difference? Experience, testing, and understanding Eugene Schwartz’s concept of “prospect awareness”” – a subject I’ll cover in future issues of The Golden Thread.

Generally speaking, though, if you’re writing a front-end or side-door promo, go with transparency. If you’re writing a back-end promo, use a direct approach.

Watch out for the two biggest naysayers to transparency …

A warning about taking a transparent approach: Two people might not feel comfortable with it. The first is your client, if he’s not really savvy in this type of effective marketing. Teach him.

The second person is you. You’ll fight with yourself when you first start writing transparently. Your brain will tell you to mention the product right away. After all – you’ll tell yourself – you’re supposed to be selling your product.

Don’t let your brain win this argument. Keep with transparency where it works best.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: March 3, 2014

1 Response to “Stop Selling Your Product! (or Maybe Not)”

  1. Wow! This is educating, Will. Thanks.
    Something I'd like to be clear on though: where a prospect finds her way to my website, would I be right to treat her as a back-end prospect? (Especially since she must have been in need and search of my services)

    Oludami Yomi-AlliyuMarch 9, 2014 at 4:56 am


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