12 Copywriting Secrets for Publishing Offers
Capturing your prospect's attention has become harder by an order of magnitude. The Internet is largely responsible for this shift. The diversity and volume of information available, many times without cost, has cut into publishers' revenues and circulation. To compete, marketers need to ensure that their promotions sell—and sell hard—from the second they're opened on the Web or received in the mail.
Here are 12 techniques that easily arm your direct mail and e-mail promotions with targeted firepower.
1. Use a credentializing prehead in your e-promo. This is a short piece of copy that appears above the main headline, usually in smaller type. The prehead builds credibility even before the actual sales message begins. This is crucial for disarming the prospect's skepticism right from the start and giving your spokesperson instant validity. For a promotion for an investment advisory, I wrote the following prehead about the editor:
The critical warning and special report from [editor's name]-the
international finance authority for over 25 years ... former advisor to Dow
Chemical and Allegheny Petroleum ... who is now single-handedly leading
readers to gains like 85.83% in only 11 months in Income ...
2. Be an advocate. A powerful way to bond emotionally with your prospect is to establish a common enemy and then position your spokesperson as a fighter on the prospect's behalf. This is a subtle way to build rapport that dramatically shortens the emotional distance between you and your prospect. It actually moves your spokesperson to the side of the table where your prospect lives.
Let's say you publish a health newsletter that covers alternative medicine. You could make the case that mainstream doctors are beholden to pharmaceutical companies and can't be counted on to render objective advice, putting readers at risk. However, you can demonstrate how your spokesperson is fiercely independent—a champion for your readers—a crusader against the greedy, "bought" medical establishment. Immediately, you've set your editor and your newsletter apart from competing publications. Remember: You're not selling a subscription; you're really selling a relationship.
3. Give away valuable information. It's not enough to sell just the sizzle anymore. You need to throw out some red meat. Readers are impatient. They expect instant gratification or they're gone. To satisfy that urge and keep them involved in your sales message, give them a reason to continue reading. One way is by delivering valuable information within the promotion itself.
4. Make your promotion newsworthy. Tying your headline or theme into a timely news event is a seductive way to hook the reader. The reason is obvious: If it's in the news, it's something that the reader is probably already thinking about. Also, a promotion with a newsworthy theme makes it seem less like a sales piece and more like information that is relevant, important and personal.
Investors were in a frenzy at the historic activity in mergers and acquisitions. It was definitely on their minds. To hook them into reading an e-promo for an investment newsletter, this headline was used:
Little-Known Company Scorches Competition with "Legal Monopoly":
Could Hand Investors 80% Gains in Just Seven Months Flat! Find out
what you MUST DO NOW to maximize your gains. PLUS: Learn how the
BIGGEST BOOM in mergers and acquisitions in SEVEN YEARS could
make you fantastic riches in NEW "synergy stocks."
5. Tell a story. Opening your promotion with a story is an excellent way to slip past your prospect's defenses and instantly engage him. Stories have a universal appeal: They cut across age groups, gender, economic backgrounds—everything. People relate to other people or to "human interest" stories. A well-told story touches our emotions on a primal level, persuading us to pay attention. Because of its charm, prospects don't perceive a story as a "selling" message.
6. Address your prospect's emotions. Bad copy starts with the product. Good copy starts with the prospect. Great copy starts with the prospect's emotions. Do what method actors do when they take on a role: Get in the skin of your prospects. See the world through their eyes. Figure out what keeps them awake at night. Once you do that, it will be easier to reach them on a gut level. Prospects buy with their emotions, then justify it with their reason.
7. Make product benefits come alive. This takes benefit copy to a deeper level by demonstrating how your product makes a clear, practical improvement to your prospect's world.
For example, an added benefit of subscribing to your investment newsletter is receiving flash alerts whenever a late-breaking news event affects your readers. You could breathe life into this feature by saying that the prospect will be able to take advantage of fast-moving markets, lock in his profits and minimize his losses because you've always got a pulse on the market. The more specific the benefit, the more powerful the copy.
8. Admit a (modest) flaw. People in general and prospects in particular are naturally skeptical of those who don't own up to the occasional mistake. Highlighting a flaw in your spokesperson counteracts that doubt.
9. Compare apples to oranges. Prospects might balk at paying a high price for your information. They might see it as a bunch of paper stapled together or words on a computer screen, instead of a unique way to add value to their lives. Therefore, a publication-to-publication price comparison is ineffective. Instead, compare the price of your product to the service it provides.
Let's say your publication focuses on ways to manage your office more efficiently and sells for a modest $97. The smart marketer will compare this to the price that a management consultant charges to come into your office and give you personal service. Obviously this costs more. By positioning your low-cost publication as an alternative to a high-priced consultant, your subscription price suddenly looks like a bargain.
10. Make the price seem even cheaper. Still another way to show the affordability of your publication is to break down the price in terms of months or days. A newsletter that sells for $300 a year sounds expensive. But it sounds downright cheap when you say it costs less than $1 a day. You can reduce the price further in the prospect's mind by comparing it to an ordinary item which the prospect already buys to make it seem like a steal. "A subscription to the Widget Advisor costs just $1 a day. A cup of coffee at Starbucks costs four times more!"
11. Dramatize the guarantee. A strong guarantee is a vital plank in your sales argument. Too often, it's written in generic, boilerplate copy: One guarantee starts to sound like every other. Instead of tacking it on almost as an afterthought, embody it with a bold, specific promise that shows the guarantee in action.
An investment publication could say something like this: "If Stock Market Alert doesn't uncover recommendations that could make you 10 times the cost of your subscription in the first year, we'll gladly refund your money even on the last day."
12. Strengthen your guarantee to the max. Some publishers are reluctant to offer 100 percent money-back guarantees. Many give full refunds only up to 30, 60 or 90 days. Publishers assume, mistakenly in most cases, that they'll lose money by offering a full, complete refund. Yet evidence suggests that this is not the case. A few people will take you up on it, but the overwhelming majority of your new subscribers will not. A full, unconditional guarantee is undeniable proof of your product's credibility and helps to smash yet another obstacle to ordering.
Robert Lerose is a freelance copywriter of direct mail and online promotions for Harper's Magazine, Forbes, Phillips, Institutional Investor, Better Homes & Gardens and many others. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (516) 486-0472.