Effective copywriting boils down to one thing: keying into your prospect’s overriding need.
Your headline is the means of stopping your prospect in his tracks, of focusing his attention on one single thought: that overriding need.
The rest of your copy must amplify that need.
When it does, your product emerges as the fulfillment, and it overcomes lethargy, skepticism, and price.
Keep in mind: you can’t create this need. You can only expand on it and bring it into greater focus. You can only channel it into a goal … namely, your product.
But there is a catch.
You can’t repeat yourself as you intensify that need. Once you do, your reader is gone.
And that’s what the following 12 exercises are all about: helping you flesh out and sharpen that overriding need without repeating yourself.
1. Say it bluntly
Let’s pretend you are a financial consultant.
You specialize in debt reduction. And from your 20 years in the business you know that the dominant desire of those in debt is to get out of debt — quickly — without living like an Irish monk in a mud hut.
Your headline might look like this (I’m assuming we are in stage five of market sophistication):
- Why Some People Will Never Get Out of Debt
Now take that overriding desire and restate it a number of different ways throughout your copy.
And remember: don’t repeat anything you’ve said before. The moment you do, your prospect is gone.
2. Open with the problem
You’ve arrested the attention of your target prospect with your headline (see above). He’s now moving down to the first sentence.
- “You hate debt. You always said you’d never let it happen to you. But here you are — deep in debt. And it doesn’t matter how you got here. You hate it.”
3. Show your product in action
Explain how your product delivers those benefits through performance.
- “No austere living conditions. No cutting out fun. No working your fingers to the bone from the time you wake to the time you fall asleep. Just three hours on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll have a budget and plan you can print out and hand to your spouse. She’ll be shocked to see she can still have her nights out with friends. Your son will squeal when he sees you’ve got a plan to start a dog sitting business so he can make money and still buy video games (used, no less). And you’re cutting out your craft beer subscription — because you are going to learn how to make it yourself.”
And so on. Pile the actions on. But don’t repeat yourself.
4. Bring in the reader
This is where you pull in the reader and make him or her part of the story. Say something like “Imagine this.” “Picture this.” “It’s 1972. You are … ”
- “Imagine calmly noting that your refrigerator just died. No worries. You’ve got more than $3,000 stashed in an emergency fund. Picture yourself saying “yes” — instead of “no” all the time — when your kids ask if they can go to the movies because you have a loaded entertainment fund. Imagine …”
5. Challenge the prospect to test your claim
Step back and say …
- “Don’t believe me that you can be debt free in 21 months? Try this little test yourself: Take a 30-day free trial and run this program through its paces. See for yourself if you don’t pay 30 percent less on your electricity bill, eliminate at least $300 in debt, and even pocket $50 for that long overdue date with your spouse.”
In this way, the prospect sees himself proving your claims.
6. Mention the desire through a testimonial
You can offer a different perspective of the benefits of your products through testimonials. Find those testimonials from customers in which they mention specific results they’ve gotten from your product.
- “Just learning the ‘hub technique’ to plan my errands so I didn’t waste so much gas driving around saved me over $75 a month, which I immediately put towards paying off my school loan.” ~ Merlin Sutpen
And remember, you are not repeating any previous result. You are expanding on the dominant need.
Extremely important note: do not ever write fake testimonials.
7. Add an expert voice or endorsement
Has someone with credentials used your product and commented on it?
Did a respectable company, publication, or organization say something about your product that expands on the previous dominant desire?
If so, use it.
- “This veteran Wall Street accountant swears this is the fastest and easiest way to defeat debt. And Money magazine said ‘It’s amazing you can cut so much debt with nothing more than a spreadsheet and calendar.’”
Don’t make up endorsements, either.
8. Compare and contrast
Hold up your product or technique to an old one. What are the differences? This can bring more results into sharp relief.
- “No doubt, the fastest way out of debt is to spend no money and put every single penny toward your loans. You probably know someone like this. But while he and his family are eating ramen noodles in a small, unheated apartment, you are taking your children to the movies guilt-free because you’ve hit your monthly goal. Again.”
9. Paint the dark side
Up to this point we’ve mostly noted the positives of your approach — what you can give them.
But what is your solution saving your prospect from? Losing their job? High medical bills?
Show them the before so they crave the after.
This is usually where you agitate the problem.
- “Ignore your debt problem and you’ll slowly spiral down into financial ruin. For example, miss a single credit card payment and you are charged a late fee, lose credit score points, and your interest rate goes up. Those last two are actually more serious than the first. And it gets really ugly the following month.”
10. Catalog desires
This is where you get to summarize the benefits in a brief, condensed listing toward the end of your sales letter.
- “Take pride in the fact you figured out how to repair your electric dryer instead of calling in an expensive repairman. Relish the freedom you now have since canceling all your magazine and newspaper subscriptions. (Admit it: you felt guilty seeing those stacks of unread publications anyway.) Savor the opportunity to finally learn how to do something you’ve always dreamed of doing — but didn’t have the time — because you picked the right kind of second job.”
11. List performances
The same as above, but instead summarize with a brief, condensed listing of performances the product will deliver.
- “Eliminate an unnecessary dentist visit with this daily fluoride tip. Get a healthy raise from your boss with this four-step negotiating technique. Cut over a half of college tuition by tapping into these government programs.”
And so on.
12. Close with a call to action
The final exercise is to help you close with a guarantee that amounts to a summary of the desire.
You ask for the sale, state the terms of your guarantee, and trot out some more benefits.
- “If you don’t eliminate your debt in less than two years, you’ll get a full refund. Yes, if this program doesn’t help you organize and consolidate your debt into one manageable monthly payment … help you earn an additional $310 a month … and even give you an extra $10 a week for your retirement fund … then you deserve every penny of your purchase price back.”
You don’t need to try all 12 exercises in one day.
Better yet, try just one exercise a day. That way you can fully explore each element of building that dominant desire.
And keep in mind all your hard work can be used in your actual sales letter.
Editor’s Note: This post was inspired by the seventh chapter of Eugene Schwartz’s classic book Breakthrough Advertising.
Flickr Creative Commons Image by United States Mission Geneva
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12 Writing Exercises That Will Transform Your Copy Today