Given the amount of advertising we are exposed to on a daily basis, most people instinctively resist anything that feels like marketing.
When you have to sell something you can write copy in a way that addresses a specific sequence of concerns that people have when being sold to.
I’ve put together a list of questions I run through when I’m putting words together to sell stuff.
First Draft - Coherence #
- Do they know what the thing does and what it’s obvious benefit is?
An easy way to get your pen to paper is to call up a friend, or catch up over coffee, and tell them about the thing. No sales pitch, just tell them what it is and why you think it is interesting. By the end of it, they should know what the thing does and what it’s obvious benefit is.
Second Draft - Persuasion #
- Always start with a problem.
Our brains are fine-tuned to pick up on problems. If you want someone’s attention, you start with a problem.
Unless your problem speaks to directly to someone they are not going to give a shit about it. Contextualise the problem for them so that they can relate to it.
The more specific you can be the more likely you are to get someone’s attention. The idea is to say something to somebody, most people end up saying everything to nobody.
Once you’ve caught someone’s attention with their problem, they are ready for your solution.
It’s the sequence of the problem followed by the solution that makes the message so easy to understand. Make sure your solution doesn’t pop up before the problem anywhere in your message.
- Do you have a helpful headline?
The second draft should rearrange things to make the writing more persuasive. Single out the most useful feature and use it as the headline.
People don’t read copy, they look at stuff that is either new, unusual or helpful. New gets old. Unusual can be good if it works. Helpful is a solid bet.
A good headline is clear. Just tell people how you are going to help them.
This is also a good way to filter out people you cannot help. You only want interested people to continue reading. Avoid getting people to read stuff only to discover that it doesn’t apply to them at the end.
- Have you translated the features into benefits?
You want to place the most interesting part of your first draft right after the headline. In most cases, this will be the features of your product or service.
One way to make features more interesting is to translate them into benefits.
A simple way to translate a feature into a benefit is to add “which means that…” to the end your feature sentence. For example: “Our products are only made with organic ingredients which means that they are good for you and they taste delicious”.
When phrasing your value proposition always assume that nobody cares. If you want someone to care focus on what THEY will get. Focus on how THEY will feel after buying it. Focus on how THEY will benefit from your product.
If you have more than three benefits it might be a good idea to limit yourself to your top three, the most interesting first and the least interesting second.
- Have you made the call-to-action super obvious?
The thing you ultimately want people to do is called the call-to-action. A good call-to-action is obvious ten steps away from a screen.
Once you have a clear call-to-action, you can also reassure people by telling them what will happen once they complete the action.
- Do you have a Trigger?
When you have a specific person in mind, a clear problem, and a solution then you can construct a trigger.
Target: New mums
Problem: Loss of slender pre-baby figure
Solution: Get back slender pre-baby figure with Yoga
Trigger: We help new mums who have lost their slender pre-baby figure get back into shape with yoga.
When deployed well, a trigger will prompt someone to ask “What do you mean by that?” which means they are actually saying, “Tell me more”.
The ‘kiss of death’ is when someone says ’oh! that’s interesting’. What they are actually saying is ‘How am I going to escape this awkward interaction’.
If your trigger doesn’t elicit a ‘How do you do that?’ from someone, then you need to start from the top and rework your trigger.
So you start with a problem. The problem gets their attention. Then the solution kicks in. To keep their attention, you have to get into the details of the problem again.
You can never overdo the ‘problem’ or the ‘solution’, you have to swing back and forth them to maintain someone’s focus.
Too many problems and they are going to freak out. Too many solutions and they will tune out. You need to find just the right level of urgency.
Yoga centre owner: We help new mums quickly get back their pre-baby figure.
Mum: How do you do that?
Yoga centre owner: We find that mums put on a lot of weight during their pregnancies (problem), and want to get those extra kilos off (solution). But it’s not just getting the kilos off that’s the issue. Getting back to strenuous exercise can be difficult, and lead to injury (problem). We help mums get back to their pre-baby figure with injury-free yoga specially designed for new mums (solution).
Third Draft - Objections #
- Have you made an exhaustive list of all the possible objections?
Objections are an indicator of interest.
Disinterested customers won’t object, they won’t ask questions, they walk away.
When someone engages with your thing, that’s when they start asking questions. That’s when they object. An objection means they have engaged.
If the objection is valid and you can’t address it then they are not the right person for your thing. Work on eliminating them before they get to this point. Do this by being clearer about whom you are targeting at the very beginning.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who would benefit from buying what you have to sell. Make an exhaustive list of all the objections, complaints, frustrations or concern they might have about your thing. Then address them one by one.
This is a fantastic exercise because it forces you to take a closer look at who you are trying to persuade and where they are coming from. A lot of people think you should do this before your first draft but I find it a more useful once I have some content to work with.
The idea is to reduce the need for an FAQ by addressing concerns before they get asked. Weave them into your copy. You can also have an FAQ for practical reference but you shouldn’t rely on it for persuasion.
People only find FAQs useful when their questions aren’t already being answered. The end goal is not to quarantine frequent questions, it is to address them so thoroughly that they’re no longer being frequently asked in the first place.
If you must keep your FAQ page, at least rename it to something more honest, like Questions the Rest of Our Site Frequently Fails to Answer.
Rather than answering a question directly, if you can get someone else to address the objection with testimonials, even better.
- Have you exacerbated the problem?
Take your list of all the issues that your thing can help with and then ask yourself what related difficulties these problems might lead to.
You’re looking to uncover implied problems. You connect the initial problem to the implied problem so that you build it into a problem large enough to justify action.
For example: How have the reliability problems affected your maintenance costs? Has this harmed profitability?
- Have you targeted as many buckets as you can?
Bucket your audience into the competitive, the benefit-driven and the inspirational.
Competitive people will respond to comparisons that allow your offering to shine.
Benefit-driven people like numbers and will respond well to testimonials.
Inspirational people relate to the possibilities of what you can do with a product.
Unless your product only targets one bucket, gear different sections to different buckets so that content appeals to all three types of people.
There is a link to a video in the footer than goes through examples of each of the above.
- Have you added credibility to your offering?
When people are sceptical, they don’t buy.
Testimonials are a simple way to add credibility to your offering. Testimonials demonstrate that people have bought your product before, that it works and that they are happy with it.
If you don’t have a testimonial, then you can borrow credibility by using a name. Say you are selling a Typeface, you can use a quote from Steve Jobs describing his obsession with beautiful typography. It is strange that this works, and it is not ideal, but it’s better than no testimonial at all.
Testimonials always come sugar-coated. People can taste sugar and this makes them less convincing. A good testimonial starts with scepticism. They describe the fear or uncertainty racing through their mind when they first considered your thing.
A reverse testimonial works because it speaks to us, in the way we speak to each other. When we’re recommending a restaurant, we intrinsically lace our recommendations with doubt.
The six questions you need to ask to get a powerful testimonial are:
- What was the obstacle that would have prevented you from buying this product/service?
- What did you find as a result of buying this product/service?
- What specific feature did you like most about this product/service?
- What would be three other benefits of this product/service?
- Would you recommend this product/service? If so, why?
- Is there anything you’d like to add?
Once you link each objection to a testimonial, you need to do bring a sale home with a guarantee.
If you’re getting a lot of complaints, it means your thing isn’t doing what it’s expected to do. Complaints are valuable feedback. Best listen to your complaints and fix the problem.
Generally, someone who complains wants you to improve. People who don’t care won’t complain but will leave anyway.
A refund lets people know that they can complain to you and that something will happen because of it. They are an effective early warning system. Pay attention to them and then fix your thing.
There is the obvious risk of your thing not working, you can guarantee against that. There are also a bunch of hidden risks surrounding your product. Explore these and you can offer a more compelling guarantee.
Once you have decided on your guarantee, always it so that it’s memorable and easy to talk about.
If you got this far then there is only one step left. It’s arguably the most difficult of all.
- Be Unique
You don’t find your uniqueness; you invent it.
Choose what you want to be the best at, and then build your business around that one factor of uniqueness.
You could be unique by being the only car rental that offers a free pet octopus with every car. The problem is that people are renting a car to get from A to B and the octopus isn’t helping them in any way. When you decide how you want to be unique, make sure that your uniqueness is actually solving the problem at hand.
Once you know how you want to stand out, decide how you are going to flesh out this uniqueness. Don’t say your thing is ‘easy to use’, what does ‘easy to use’ even mean anymore? Outline exactly what it means in the context of your thing.
Apart from standing out and making your thing simple to understand, becoming the best in one respect speaks to the possible objection of switching to a competitor instead.
Fourth Draft - Clarity #
- Are you being as specific as you can be?
People will expect you to put your best foot forward. They will excuse exaggerations born of enthusiasm. For the same reason, superlatives account for little. Instead, be as specific as you can. A specific statement is more persuasive because it is either the truth or a complete lie.
- Have you used active, positive and definite sentences?
Active means using the active voice.
“I will always remember my first visit to London.” Passively this could be, “My first visit to London will always be remembered.”
The passive voice is unnecessarily vague.
When an entire web page is in the passive, people will have a hard time reading it. Their eyes glaze over; they lose interest. Too much passive and your voice becomes boring and difficult to understand.
Positive means using the positive form.
Instead of “He is usually never on time “ use “He is always late”. Avoid tame, colourless, hesitant, non-committal language.
Definite just means using specific, concrete language.
Use specific over general, definite over vague and concrete over abstract.
Instead of “a period of unfavourable weather” say, “it rained every day for a week.”
- Have you omitted needless words and sentences?
Vigorous writing is concise. Always omit needless words and sentences. When you can, remove it.
Most of the links are affiliate links, please use them to show your appreciation for the time I spent putting this together.
- ‘The Ultimate Sales Letter’ by Dan Kennedy
- 'This book will teach you how to write better’ by Neville Medhora
- 'Scientific Advertising’ by Claude Hopkins
- 'The Boron Letters’ by Gary Halbert
- 'Spin Selling’ by Neil Rackham
- 'The Brain Audit’ by Sean D'Souza
- The Elements of User Onboarding by Samuel Hulick