You know the more reps you do in the gym, the stronger you get. Well, reps can make your B2B copy stronger, too. Only the kind of rep we use in marketing is REP, which stands for rational, emotional, and personal.
By using REP, you reach your prospects on three levels — rational, emotional, and personal — which is invariably stronger than reaching them only on one level. Many copywriters today make the mistake of using only rational — a B2B copy approach dominated by specifications and features, or as it was called back in the day, “speeds and feeds.”
When used in combination with emotional and personal, rational strengthens REP. But when used alone, as is sometimes done to the copy’s detriment, it’s often the weakest of the three levels.
Level No. 1: Rational
Rational appeals to intellect and logic. For a newsletter on cardiac health, for instance, you might say in your copy that heart attack is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.
That gets attention. But it’s just a statistic — a number. I love statistics and numbers, especially to dramatize or prove a claim. But the problem with statistics and numbers is that they appeal primarily to logic — to your rational mind — the R in REP.
They can get attention but cannot match the impact, attention-grabbing power, and persuasiveness of the E and P in REP.
Level No. 2: Emotion
While rational appeals work especially well with technical products sold to technical audiences, long years of experience show that — regardless of audience or product — emotion is more powerful than facts.
People are motivated to purchase by emotion. They then use rational thought to justify the buying decision that their emotions are moving them to take.
For our cardiac newsletter example, we might appeal to the emotion of fear — fear of having a heart attack or stroke — or more deeply, the worry about what would happen to your family if you became incapacitated or died.
Testing and experience guide marketers in focusing on the most powerful emotion for the selling job.
For instance, while fear is a widely used emotion in health copy, hope is an even stronger emotion. Tell the person with high blood pressure or atherosclerosis that your publication reveals new tactics that can help them get healthy and avoid heart attack or stroke.
In fundraising, marketers often appeal to sadness, empathy, or pity — making you feel sorry for the audience the nonprofit serves; e.g., the homeless, the hungry, the sick. But a stronger emotional appeal is benevolence: People donate to satisfy a strong heartfelt desire to help other people.
“There are certain prime human emotions with which the thoughts of all of us are occupied a goodly part of the time,” wrote Robert Collier, author of “The Robert Collier Letter Book.” “Tie it up to a thing you have to offer, and you are sure of the prospect’s interest.”
Level No. 3: Personal
To promote a cardiac health newsletter, master copywriter Don Hauptman wrote this headline: “When I was 16, my father died of a heart attack.”
“Personal” means you express the main idea in a story, thought, or incident that is personal either in terms that relate to the seller — in this case, the publisher of the newsletter — or to the buyer. The personal appeal either references the buyer directly or else an avatar of the target prospect.
For direct mail promotion selling a tax newsletter, the copy began by telling a wrenching personal story of the consequences of not protecting yourself against the IRS: “My Dearest Kay: I have taken my life in order to provide capital for you. The IRS and its liens have dried up all sources of credit for us. So I have made the only decision I can. I hope you can understand that. I love you completely. P.S. You will find my body on the north side of the house.” The headline above this copy asks, “Has the IRS Gone Completely Mad?”
The Power of Verisimilitude
Verisimilitude in writing means your words convey that what you say is real and true. And the use of REPs gives your copy verisimilitude.
Many inexperienced copywriters feel they have to make a choice; for instance, they must decide whether their copy is to be rational or logical, factual or personal, or features- vs. benefits-driven — one or the other.
But verisimilitude is best achieved when your writing is a mix of all three REP ingredients — rational/factual, emotional, and personal.
It’s the same with balancing features and benefits in your copy. Many copywriting books and courses advise, “Forget features; just focus on benefits.”
The problem is that when you talk about the benefits without also highlighting the product feature that delivers the benefit, your claims are less believable. For instance, if you say your motor oil additive protects engine parts better, so they last longer and run more smoothly, that’s a benefit. But unsupported claims invite skepticism; and the stronger the benefit, the greater the doubts about it.
So the B2B copy in this company’s ads combines the benefit (“boosts your engine’s performance”) with the feature that delivers the benefit: “Compact molecules literally soak into the porous surface of the metal, cooling your engine while keeping it clean.”
The benefit alone invites skepticism. The feature alone — “compact molecules” — makes readers stifle a yawn. But together, feature and benefit result in verisimilitude that erases skepticism and makes the claim believable and real.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.